Art pieces to see at the National Museum
by rick olivares
My interest in art was rekindled by a recent trip to Western Europe where I spent hours and hours at the world famous Louvre and Vatican Museums. As a youngster, I regularly went to art school learning to paint and draw. I soon gave this up for football and later on, writing and of course, girls.
But you do go back to your first love, and I have started illustrating again. It’s like learning to ride a bike all over again, although I must say my artistic skills have atrophied.
The Louvre was certainly overwhelming. As one of the Walking Tour Guides of Paris informed us, if you were to take a minute to take stock of every single piece of art inside the Louvre, you’d be there for 25 days! At the Sistine Chapel, I spent 40 minutes gazing at Michelangelo’s painting of the ceiling. And I still felt it wasn’t enough.
While the collections at the National Museum pale in comparison to its Western European cousins, there is still sufficient greatness to warrant going there and spending hours of viewing splendor.
And here, in my opinion, are the 10 art pieces that you must see at the National Museum.
Juan N. Luna’s Spoliarium. This is the second piece of art that greets you when you enter the National Museum (the first is Guillermo E. Tolentino’s Diwata). Who doesn’t know Juan Luna and his Spoliarium? It is a powerful image of death. I have never seen anything on Roman Gladiators before or since. And the painting said volumes about life for the subject as well as Filipinos under colonial rule. Along with Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho is power depiction of pain and cruelty. I must have spent an hour gazing at the Spoliarium this time I went. Yes, it is that powerful.
Juan N. Luna’s La Bulaqueña. This is one of the few works by Luna that depicted Filipino culture. There are theories on the identity of the woman. I really couldn’t care less. I am more transfixed by the subtle elegance of the Maria Clara-type of clothing and the sadness of the subject’s face.
Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante. Not quite Las Virgenes or even La barca de Aqueronte but no less powerful. The assassination of Spanish Governor-General Bustamante and his son by clerics and a mob is like a Molotov cocktail to the clergy’s excesses during that era.
Guillermo E. Tolentino’s Diwata. This is the first work of art that you come across when you enter the National Museum. Diwata isn’t as iconic as his Oblation at the University of the Philippines, but it is still a fine work of art. In some ways, it reminds me of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Carlos V. Francisco’s The First Mass at Limasawa. Oh, to actually witness this historical event. The mural depicts the first ever Holy Mass in the Philippines upon the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan. Am not sure if this is by intent but when I went there, the light from the ceiling above cast this “aura” around Magellan adding to the surreal feeling when I viewed it last Sunday. Absolutely amazing.
Guillermo E. Tolentino’s Venus. I love the fact the Filipinos have contributed to European art and culture through the works of Luna and Hidalgo. Tolentino’s work may not be know across the ocean but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating his take on noted Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Boticcelli’s "The Birth of Venus.” I love it.
Cesar Amorsolo’s Painted Window of Christ the King. This will not look out of place in the Vatican Museum!
Carlos V. Francisco’s four-part Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas. I have always been a fan of Botong Francisco’s work. Visiting his home in Angono, Rizal was a thrill for me as a youngster. Seeing his work all over again has me planning on making another trip.
Guillermo E. Tolentino’s Filipino Ilustres lithograph. A class picture of the national heroes of yesteryear. One of Tolentino’s early works.
Isabelo L. Tampinco’s plaster cast Portrait of Dr. Jose Rizal. Sculptor Tampinco lived through the Philippine Revolution and the subsequent war with the Americans. That he lived during the life and times of Dr. Jose Rizal and sculpted this bust is amazing. At the heart of a national hero is a man and I believe that Tampinco captured him perfectly.
You might note that all the favorites I listed are from decades if not a century past. Are there modern works worth viewing?
Of course. From the 1980s to the present day, there are works from Ramon Orlina to Federico Alcuaz to Ibarra dela Rosa and Symfronio Mendoza to name a very few. Proof positive the Filipino art is alive and well today.