The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Señor Donato

Señor Donato

A carte-de-visite portrait of Señor Donato, the one-legged Spanish dancer.

According to the Dublin Evening Mail (26 December 1864), quoting an article that had previous appeared in the London Review: 'Donato, the forthcoming one-legged dancer at Covent Garden, is still furnishing much gossip for theatrical circles, and a few facts about him may be interesting. He was formerly a member of the ballet at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, where his talents as a dancer were much appreciated. From Naples he went to Spain, where he entered the bull-ring, and while acting as a matador he was gored in the thigh, and had to have his leg amputated. [...] We are informed upon good authority that he is to receive £50 a night.'

A critic writing for the Illustrated Times (14 January 1865) was enthusiastic about his performance. 'Whatever uncomfortable impression may be attached to the notion of a man performing feats of Terpsichorean agility with only one leg to sustain and serve him is dispelled almost as soon as Senor Donato has hopped up to the footlights. In the twinkling of a foot he won the sympathy of the whole house the first night that he appeared before a London audience, and the applause that greeted his performance, as wonder after wonder gave it increased and increasing interest, became at last quite uproarious. [...] The endurance of the man is as singular as his rigour and address. He dances, never flagging, for little short of ten minutes, and finishes with a series of rapid evolutions, enough under the circumstances, to make the beholder giddy. And then, to crown all, Senor Donato accompanies himself on the castanets to absolute perfection. Other one-legged dancers perform nightly at neighbouring houses, for this sort of thing has become quite the rage in the metropolis, but Donato excels them all in grace, spirit, and general effectiveness. [...] M. Donato, we believe, is a Spaniard, and lost his right leg during the campaign in Morocco; but misfortunes are sometimes blessings in disguise, and certainly what would have been a serious deprivation to most men seems likely to prove the source of both fame and fortune to M. Donato.'

His success, however, was short-lived. A few months later, news of his death was syndicated to numerous provincial newspapers. 'Donato, the celebrated one-legged dancer, has died in the small town of Cyrange, France. Suffering from an inward complaint, his malady was not understood by the London doctors, and he was wrongly treated. On his way to Nice he put up at Cyrange, intending to pass a few days there and then to resume his journey; but his health became so bad that he was unable to leave. On the 10th of June, at ten o'clock pm, Donato breathed his last in the arms of his beloved wife, the celebrated Viennese actress, [Fraulein] Julius. The funeral took place on the 13th, and was followed by a large concourse of people' (Taunton Courier, 12 July 1865).

Photographed by Ludwig Haase of Berlin.

Code: 126579
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© Paul Frecker 2019