Cabinet Photograph Signed "With best thanks from Esmeralda Cervantes"

ESMERALDA CERVANTES pseudonym of Clotilde Cerda, child prodigy, Spanish harpist 1861-1926


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L. Sanchez, Barcelona. n.d. Signed "Tenerife 7-III-903".

Full length photograph of Cervantes playing her harp. 

Spanish harp prodigy and later feminist educator, Clotilde Cerdà was the daughter of engineer and Barcelona city planner Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer (1815-1876) and the painter Clotilde Bosch (1829-?). Gifted in the arts from her earliest years, she was sent to Rome to study painting with Mariano Fortuny, but it soon became clear that her calling lay in music. In 1873 (at the age of 11), she debuted at the Imperial Court Theatre in Vienna with her first harp concert. By the age of 15 she had already achieved international renown, and that year she embarked on a tour which included the US, Cuba and Brazil. The stage name Esmeralda Cervantes was created to differentiate Clotilde from her artist mother who always travelled by her side. It has been suggested that her stage name came from Victor Hugo, after the gypsy-hero Esmeralda (her mother was friends with Hugo, and also the composers Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner).

As well as being a world-renowned musician, Cerdà was an anti-slavery activist, pro-Cuban independence campaigner, and feminist campaigner and educator. During her 1876 tour she performed in Cuba (at Havana’s most important theatre, the Teatro Tacón) despite being advised to avoid the country, which was still embroiled in the Ten Years War. Whilst there she befriended members of the independence movement, who were for a republic and against slavery.

After her return to Barcelona, in the 1880s, Cerdà dedicated much of her energy establishing, promoting and maintaining a women’s educational institution, the Academy of Sciences, Arts and Offices for Women. Working with other already established, successful women in their individual fields (including the poet Josepa Massanés, the doctor Dolors Aleu i Riera - the first female medical doctor in Spain - and the journalist and novelist Antònia Opisso), the academy was hugely well received, receiving hundreds of applications. However, her support of Cuban independence hadn’t gone unnoticed amongst supporters of the royalist state, and Cerdà found it difficult to get the required funding to expand the academy. In her article, ‘Clotilde Cerdà, between music and social activism’, historian Isabel Segura Soriano quotes a letter from Conde Morphy, a count and secretary to the Queen Regent of Spain, to Cerdà, in which he writes, “I thought that you aspired to play the harp very well or even to be a great artist, […] but then one day you appear in Cuba, as if wanting to solve the problem of slavery through your influence and presiding over demonstrations and meetings that have nothing to do with art. And now I see you setting yourself up as defender of the Catalan working classes and the education of women.” Segura Soriano describes how this letter included a recommendation (if not, a flat-out order) that Cerdà keep quiet; the implication was that if she did not, she would have to face the consequences. The consequences were enacted only two years after the opening of the Academy – in 1887 it closed due to lack of funds, and Cerdà was forced to leave Spain.


Her exile did not stop Cerdà from pursuing feminist enterprises; she continued her work wherever possible, including in Turkey, the United States of America, and Brazil. She eventually returned, briefly, to Barcelona, before finally settling in Tenerife.

Pencil note on verso reads “Professional Spanish harpist with whom I played in a trio, (harp, song and violin) in Teneriffe. G. F. D.”

Edges roughly trimmed, some scuffing and marking to photo, otherwise very good.

Segura Soriano, Isabel, ‘Clotilde Cerdà, between music and social activism’:

Stock Code: 233388

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