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A day at the museum: Walking down the history lane and rediscovering our own fine arts

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macoolette
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4 months ago9 min read

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My friend and I were thinking about how we will spend the weekend when we know there is not much time to plan for out of town trip. Then after few days she came back asking, "How about going to the National Museum? We should also learn to appreciate art."

Oh, yes! IT people like us do not usually know how to appreciate or we have shallow appreciation of art. So how about dedicating time for it? Yes, let's go!

Our National Museum is in the City of Manila, right near the city hall. We did not know how to go there and we will be coming from different places so we depended on Google. Here is what we found out: Wherever you are in Metro Manila, find your way to LRT 1 line and drop off the Central Station. The National Museum is already walking distance from there. I found my friend waiting by the entrance of the Fine Arts Museum when I arrived.
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I can't get a good shot of the building unless I go in the middle of the street in front of the building. I wish to have a drone next time. 😊

The museum is open every day, including Sunday when we went there, but I guess not during holidays. Entrance is free. The main entrance is at the second floor. They do not allow big bags inside so those have to be left at the package counter right when you enter the building. I do not know how they define "big" bags because my sling bag with a size of around 30 cm x 30 cm was not allowed while my friend's bag which is around 15 cm x 20 cm was allowed.

Taking video shots is prohibited in the museum. Taking still photos is allowed but there must be no flash. For those who wonder why, camera flash has negative effect that accelerates degradation of the paintings. I forgot the technical term of such effect.

At the entrance, we were greeted by a giant statue which we did not pay attention at first and we went straight inside. Behind where the giant statue is an almost empty hall with The Spoliarium in front. It occupied almost the whole wall from floor to ceiling. This is what really caught my attention. I remember this was mentioned in our history lesson in elementary but I did not pay attention as to what it really is all about.
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It took me time to find the right moment of taking this photo because of many people wanting to take photos in front with the painting as their background. Darn! I want a clear view of the painting and not my face in front of it!

The Spoliarium is a painting of famous Filipino painter Juan Luna in the 19th century. According to our National Museum website, the painting won First Gold Medal from the the prestigious Exposicion de Bellas Artes (Madrid Art Exposition, May 1884). It is the biggest Philippine painting with the size of 4.22 m x 7.675 m. Let me quote more from the website:

The painting features a glimpse of Roman history centered on the bloody carnage brought by gladiatorial matches. Spoliarium is a Latin word referring to the basement of the Roman Colosseum where the fallen and dying gladiators are dumped and devoid of their worldly possessions.

At the center of Luna’s painting are fallen gladiators being dragged by Roman soldiers. On the left, spectators ardently await their chance to strip off the combatants of their metal helmets and other armory. In contrast with the charged emotions featured on the left, the right side meanwhile presents a somber mood. An old man carries a torch perhaps searching for his son while a woman weeps the death of her loved one.

Looking at the painting right in front of me gave me goosebumps. It felt alive. I wonder, was life really this gross back in those old centuries?

After the Spoliarium hall, I can no longer remember which way we turned from one place to another but one thing is for sure: there are many halls in different wings of three floors (from second to fouth floor) that are full of fine arts from our history. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of paintings in the building. Let me share a few of them.

Here is a wall of our two famous Filipino painters. That is Juan Luna (the one who painted The Spoliarium) on the left side and Felix Hidalgo on the right side. Now I wonder who made this painting for them as I forgot to take a photo of the caption on the right side.
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After roaming a few more rooms, we found this painting of our national hero Jose Rizal. It is an oil on canvass painting titled "Rizal the Reformist" by Martino Abellana in 1960. Oh well, that's a little "recent" as compared to The Spoliarium from century ago. Now that made me wonder how they preserve collector's items for centuries without getting rotten.
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We turned to another wing and got into this hallway of paintings. Yes, even hallways have paintings all along.
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The hallway led us to hall with religious Christian paintings. This one is a view of the famous 18th century church La Purisima Concepcion in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. It suffered major destruction due to the category 5 typhoon Haiyan or #YolandaPH as it was called locally. The church is still a subject of on-going recovery and restoration by the National Museum.
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This next art painted window of Christ the King, an oil in glass painting of Cesar Amorsolo in 1946. It is a triptych featuring Christ the King seated in the middle with archangels Raphael and Gabriel bowing on the sides. Christ the King images are usually having Christ's right hand up in a gesture of blessing and the left hand holding either a staff, bible or globe. This one though is different. Christ's hands were portrayed open facing inward as a sign of blessed welcome to His heavenly kingdom.
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"Planting of the First Cross" is an oil on canvass painting by Vicente S. Manansala in 1965. It depicts the planting of first cross in Cebu when Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu in 1521.
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In a different hall, there are paintings specifically for the City of Manila like this "Timbulan ng Laya at Diwang Dakila" or "Beacon of Freedom and Nobility of Spirit" by Carlos V. Francisco. It is an oil on canvass painting done in 1968. I quote a disclaimer on the caption, "Part of History of Manila, or Filipino Struggles Through History."
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Another icon of City of Manila is the procession of Black Nazarene in Quiapo. It is very popular and still being observed by devotees every ninth of January in the Philippines. The devotees believe that if they join the procession, the Black Nazarene will hear and grant their payers. Some who had answered prayers even make it a pledge to join the procession every year as thanksgiving gesture.

This "Black Nazarene of Quiapo" painting has clearly depicts the procession where part of it is chaos when people stumble upon each other. The painting is an oil on canvass done by Ricarte M. Purugunan in 1937.
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Let's move on to another hall where I can not help laughing at this painting. I wonder if all guys do the same "Daydream"-ing. All sexy girls in mind!

From the caption, it says it is an acrylic on natural white matte canvass by Francisco Balagtas and Norlie Meimban. The caption has 2016 and I wonder what that meant because Francisco Balagtas certainly did not live until then. I don't know when he died but he was in our history subject in elementary. And I never heard of Norlie. If you notice, there are signatures on the lower right corner of the painting. Kiko is the nickname of Francisco. Meimban signature is on top. I thought Norlie could have retouched the painting thus her name is also on the caption. I don't know...
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According to folk tales and what I can remember from history in elementary, some old folks do pottery making as their means to earn living. Even now in modern days, this is still being done and I have seen big pottery shops in Vigan City. It was amazing to see how easy they create a beautiful pot with all the curving in a very short time. I did my project in elementary and it took me days for a for-compliance sake result. 😊 Kidding aside, I think pottery is indeed part of Filipino's way of life thus "Pottery Makers" even became a painting subject that landed in a national museum. This is an oil on canvass painting by Norma Belleza in 1982.
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I think Filipinos like colors in general, like me, thus the depiction of "Sunday at the Park" on this colorful painting. It is an acrylic on canvass painting by Jerry Elizalde Navarro in 1994.

I asked my friend where is "park" on the painting and she said it must be there. It is just that we are not artists so we do not see things like how artists do. Okay... πŸ˜ƒ
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I have hundreds more of photos from the museum but let us take a break for now. Maybe I will write part two of this visit. But before I finally end for now, here is the giant statue that I was referring to will greet you at the entrance. That is my friend checking on who he was. It is statue of Manuel Roxas, fifth president of the Philippines. We are not sure why he is the "receptionist" at the museum. Maybe that is something for clarification on a next visit.
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And here is the door knob of the museum. I am not sure if it is copper, bronze or brass but it certainly looks antique.
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I guess I will really have to write part two of this post... 😊

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