If Myrurgia’s Andalusian dancer is mythical in Spain, it isn’t only because she adorns the labels of its most famous fragrance. Her model, the dancer Carmen Tortola Valencia, is herself a legend in her native country.
Born in 1885 in Triana, the gypsy quarter of Seville, Carmen Tortola Valencia grew up in London, where her parents emigrated when she was three. It was there that she began dancing to support herself in 1908, in a music-hall. But her career took a new, more artistic turn when she discovered the American dancers Loïe Fuller and Isadora Duncan in Paris, the following year.
Considered one of the most beautiful women in Europe, highly cultured, and a sometimes painter, Tortola Valencia studied the traditional dances of Africa, the Orient and India to draw her inspiration from them. Nicknamed the « Barefoot Dancer »by the poet Ruben Dario, she shocked and fascinated as much by her sensuous choreographies – such as « The Dance of Incense » -- as by her free and scandalous private life. There were rumours of affairs with the Prince of Wales and the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, as well as with the great Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and the Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga, who did her portrait in 1914. She was said to be engaged to the marquess of Vinént : she wasn’t ; he was gay. In fact, so was she : her most constant companion, until her death in Barcelona in 1955, was Angeles Vila-Magret, fourteen years her junior.
The Buddhist, vegetarian and lesbian Tortola Valencia became the muse of Spanish painters and writers. Ruben Dario, Pio Baroja, Miguel de Valle-Inclan and Raul Gomez de la Serna all wrote poems in her honour.
In 1918, a photograph of Tortola Valencia, wearing the traditional comb and mantilla of the Spanish majas, inspired the design of the label for Myrurgia’s Maja fragrance. Her haughty silhouette, adorned in red and black, would be redesigned so many times that very little trace remains of her saucy features. What a strange way for the Queen of baile to survive the oblivion to which dance, the ephemereal art in which so many women expressed their genius, succumbs by its very nature.
Image: Carmen Tortola Valencia, photographed by Espasio Amatler (1914)