I’ve been to Manila for countless times already but only recently did I get the chance to actually enter one of the most interesting places in the city, the National Museum. Rekindling my interest in history and my awakening my fascination for the arts, this place is really a must-visit.
Settled along Padre Burgos Street just beside the Manila City Hall, the National Museum is actually the National Art Gallery. The building used to be the Old Legislative Building (Congress) and is the one we see in the old 50php bill. The façade was so attractive, particularly because of its Corinthian designs. The bas-reliefs and the pillars were eye-catching.
Okay. So the actual purpose for my visit there is Spoliarium, the huge masterpiece of Juan Luna which won first prize in the Madrid Exposition of 1884. Its dimension is 160in x 280in so it basically reaches the ceiling of the lobby where it is displayed. Facing it is Felix Ressureccion Hildago’s Assassination of Governor Bustamante, which is practically of the same height as Luna’s masterpiece.
Basically, the National Museum – like the Museum of the Filipino People – is divided into several galleries. As it’s called the National Art Gallery too, the museum features the creations of top Filipino artisans. There were many so if you’re an artist, you would definitely like it. Various sculptures, carvings, and paintings are displayed – some are even declared as National Cultural Treasures. I swear I didn’t know we have such.
I’ve read loads of names credited in the artworks, but there are only a few which stuck in my head. Dr. Jose Rizal, of course, is the first in the list. It felt fascinating to actually see the bust of Gov. Gen. Ricardo Carnicero which the national hero gifted to his warden during his exile in Dapitan; and the very interesting Mother’s Revenge, which featured a mother dog biting to death an alligator which had bitten her puppy.
And then, there’s Juan Luna, who we see in almost every painting gallery. I swear, he was everywhere! Or at least his face is. But I guess, that’s pretty expected since he is one of the most celebrated Filipino artists of all times.
The works of Fernando Amorsolo put me in awe though. I’ve heard about him before and knew he was famed for his realistic paintings portraying the everyday lives of the Filipinos, particularly women; but I think my interest just heightened up when I saw the real artworks. His mastery for realism and impressionism is really inspiring. He wasn’t declared a national artist for nothing.
What I loved most though in Amorsolo’s gallery at the museum were the practice sketches. They were all there, framed and displayed; and perhaps, it is those simple artworks which awakened my desire to actually learn drawing. He made it look so easy, and I think that’s the most important motivation.
Next is Guillermo Tolentino, the renowned sculptor whose roster of creations include the Bonifacio Monument, UP’s Oblation, and UE’s Lualhati. While I am not really into sculptures, I was quite stunned at how good he is with detailing everything. Even a 6-inches statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz looked really good, and I just can’t help but wonder how careful was he when he was sculpting it.
The last artist to stick in my mind is Vicente Manansala. While Amorsolo was into realism and impressionism, Manansala’s creations were more in the modern aspect (neo-realism) that I didn’t think he was born on 1910. According to Wikipedia, he had developed transparent cubism, which practically gives off the impression of 3D paintings.
It was a fun thing seeing myself get amused with the artworks in the museum; but if there is one thing which basically astounded me, it was Juan Luna’s Parisian Life.
First and foremost, I went to the National Museum for the Spoliarium; and I never expected that Parisian Life will be there. I saw the painting first when I was in high school at the GSIS Museum, when it was bought by the agency for 46 million pesos in an auction in Hong Kong. It was pretty much the only thing that I remembered from the field trip, and I was just so glad to have seen it again.
Lui and I left the museum afterwards. And a few days after, here I am thinking about how much of a rediscovery of my being a Filipino that trip was. It felt great, to be honest; that I have seen this part of my culture.
And I hope… with all sincerity… that every Filipino get to see what I saw too.