I was planning half-heartedly to go to the Philippine National Museum on a weekend. And the days proved it unattainable until this Sunday (2012.06.10) when I successfully persuaded some friends to visit the National Museum.
We only visited the National Art Gallery section of the museum. This building formerly housed the Senate of the Philippines. The National Museum today used to be the Legislative Building. At the entrance stand the colossal statues of Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, both became senators during the American-led Philippines. They later became presidents of the country. The inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth as well as the swearing-in of Quezon were done here.
Try looking at the 50-peso banknote (New Design Series). The reverse side pictures the building of the National Museum. Try looking for a Bagong Lipunan Series and Pilipino Series of the banknote and read the caption being “Gusaling Batasan”.
So much for that. I was extremely ecstatic (in a reserved manner) to behold some of the Philippine art treasures One being the painting Spoliarium by Juan Luna which won him the first gold medal in the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884. Spoliarium is actually the chamber in the Romal Colosseum where the dead bodies of the gladiators were taken and disposed of. So the scene in the Spoliarium after a gladiator match must have been ghastly and detestable. And the idea that such a place existed is horrible, indeed. (Sorry for the blurry images. I just took them with my mobile phone.)
(I hope to get a clear photograph of the painting. I will if I get back to the gallery!)
And this scene was what Juan Luna had imagined and brought to the consciousness of every audience that stood before it.
I took the opportunity to look at the details of the painting. Well, I often saw the painting in textbooks only to “relish” an image of almost dark ink. But as I saw it at the museum, the anguish that stayed on the face of the dead gladiator was evident. And the incredulous stare of the people and an emasculated figure of a woman inside the Spoliarium were also depicted.
Opposite the Spoliarium is Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo’s masterpiece La Tragedia de Gobernador Bustamante where a mob of friars lynched Governor-general Fernando Manuel Bustamante. That shows 18th century politics in the Philippines, and to what extent could enmity between the the government and the church lead them.
There are still many galleries at the museum that I unfortunately failed to step onto as parts of the museum are under renovation. For sure I would want to see the extensive collection of landscape paintings by Fernando Amorsolo and some art pieces from contemporary artists. By the way, a sculpture made by Jose Rizal is also on display one one of the galleries. There are also numerous large works by Carlos V Francisco, and numerous portraits.
A relatively new terracotta sculpture caught my eyes. This one is done by Julie Lluch. Pretty impressive I should add. Another is a bronze work by Abdulmari Imao. Very indigenous. I have an opinion that he is successfully putting southern Philippine art themes to national prominence. By the way, he is a National Artist for Sculpture.
I still have to look for more awe-inspiring works by Filipino artists. Definitely I will go back, if my days will be generous enough to allow me. I want to see the past chamber of the Senate. That would have been astonishing to any lover of history. Hope to be back there.
I acted as an informal curator, answering questions of my companions about some of the artworks. Well, I tried to give the best insights and facts that I can remember . And I was also surprised that I got to say much based on mere stock knowledge. I also had the habit of quieting my companions when they became annoyingly noisy and exhibited unbecoming behaviour in a museum. So I instantly earned the moniker “Principal”.