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Edgar Cruz

Juan Luna takes liberties with Spoliarium

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 00:00 Published in Life Style

So it was impossible for a wife or a father to be at the imagined spoliarium.

Spanish colonizers called Filipinos indios, a derogatory term that painted them as "indolent savages" who had to be tamed and ruled. When Juan Luna, with his brother Manuel, traveled to Europe to study at the mecca of the humanities, they were gawked at like exotic mammals.
Enrolling at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Luna studied under painter Don Alejo Vera. Dissatisfied with traditional school, Luna opted for alternative education by apprenticing with Vera, who brought him to Rome to assist in commissioned works.
Winning a silver medal at the first art exposition in Madrid, the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Exposition of Fine Arts), Luna entered La Muerte de Cleopatra (The Death of Cleopatra, 1881), which led to an annual scholarship of 600 pesos from the Ayuntamiento of Manila.
It required him to create a painting that captured the essence of Philippine history. As a condition, it would then become the Ayuntamiento's property.
In September 1883, Luna started The Spoliarium as demanded by the contract. As a graduation piece out to prove he had turned into the consummate academic painter, Luna painted in oil (the only painting medium available during that time) on lifesize, 4.22-by-7.675-meter, on poplar, and spent an uncompromising eight months on the vigorous and dramatic painting.
In early 1884 in Barcelona, Jose Rizal proposed the writing of a novel about the Philippines to a group of Filipinos. The proposal was unanimously approved. However, the project did not push through as the people who agreed to contribute remised on the content: all turned chauvinistic by picking women as subject! Rizal pulled out of the plan and decided to draft the novel alone.
Once finished and allowed to dry, Luna signed The Spoliarium as signed "LVNA ROMA CCLXXXIV" (LUNA ROME '84), the largest painting by a Filipino artist of its epoch.
In intricate brushstrokes, it is brooding and dark even as it breathes life to a highly charged scene at the crematory after gladiators battled each other or against ferocious beasts in a panis et circensis (bread and circuses, roughly translated as entertainment) to which the Roman rulers had to accede to avoid the population's anger.
Four injured and dying gladiators who entertained their oppressors in the arena with their lives are being dragged in by Roman soldiers in the dark and dingy crematory. Cheering spectators and greedy: faces below eagerly await to strip off the fallen combatants of their armor. The barbarism sharply contrasts with the humanity of a woman sprawled on the floor as an old man with a torch locates a son.
He entered he jaw-dropping obra maestra in the Madrid Art Exposition while Felix Resurrection Hidalgo submitted Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas Al Populacho (1884). Luna clinched the gold medal, while Hidalgo won the silver. They proved to the world that indios could paint better than their colonizers.
An epic depiction of a dreadful scene at the morgue of the Colosseum after a gladiators' duel to death, Luna's intention in painting The Spoliarium was to win a prize in a European art exposition. When the imaginative depiction did just that, his massive masterpiece took an entirely different purpose.
Luna painted The Spoliarium 1,400 years after the last gladiatorial fights so his source of information is likely oral history, written references, visual depictions of gladiatorial scenes, and no doubt his own imagination.
Not only did then medical student Rizal give The Spoliarium (1884) an entirely different meaning not intended by the artist, but the artist himself misrepresented its gladiatorial theme.
In Latin, spoliarium means "den." As such, Luna likely used it as the title of his painting to mean den of thieves in Rome's Colosseum, which is assumed as its location might have a morgue, but definitely not a den of thieves.
The hypogeum is the two-level underground of Rome's Colosseum was referred to, is the assumed location of The Spoliarium. Problem is it did not have a part called a spoliarium. YouTube documentaries on the Colosseum do not identify a spoliarium.
He likely used the Latin word as a metaphor than to refer to a specific part of the Colosseum where it is assumed fallen gladiators were deprived of fight implements or uniform, thus the reference as a den of thieves.
Gladiators were slaves from other countries, mostly spoils of war. They were valuable properties who came from facilities where they were lived, trained and recuperate in case of non-mortal wounds. This discounted the possibility that their implements were up for grabs or even the presence of covetous spectators in the "spoliarium."
Roman soldiers were not involved in these fights. Slaves were assigned to perform non-combatant roles such as doing menial work such as bringing gladiators out of the arena. As such, killed gladiators were not incinerated but as archeology had revealed, some prized fighters were accorded proper burials as indicated by tombstones; others were dumped in common graves.
So, it was impossible for a wife or a father to be at the imagined spoliarium.
At a banquet at the Restaurant Ingles on the night of June 25, 1884, about 60 people — among them members of the Reform Movement, Spanish liberals and members of the Masonry — gathered to celebrate Luna's and Hidalgo's triumphs. Rizal subbed for Maximo Paterno as toast speaker at the last minute.
Largely speaking in poetic Spanish, Rizal originated from a position of equality with the Spanish, talking about his program, hopes, complaints for Filipinos. Its rhetoric was equality between the Filipinos and the oppressive Spanish colonizers. Rizal expounded on his diatribe: "…Upon reflecting with their palettes the splendor of the Tropical sunlight, transform it into rays of eternal glory with which they wreath their country — humanity subjected to severe tests; unredeemed humanity; reason and aspiration in open struggle against personal troubles, fanaticism and injustice, because sentiment and opinion will break open a path through even the thickest wall…"
At this event, Rizal put a broader political context to The Spoliarium in terms of the Philippine-Spanish relations, an allegory of the agony of Filipinos under Spanish colonial rule. Graciano Lopez Jaena bolstered Rizal's fragile but absorbed logic in the toast immediately after the event. That was not the point, however — to parlay their political agenda was. But first they had to say it loud and proud.
If The Spoliarium has historical importance, it is that it inspired Rizal's political direction. The painting irrevocably led him to pursue his political ideals that altered his life, dedicating it to the achievement of reforms for the homeland. He soon turned student activist and began to pen his botched anti-colonial novel, his solo authorship called Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and its sequel, El Filibusterismo (The Filibustering).
Despite the defective depiction of subject that proved the Filipinos' parity with any nationality and having catalyzed Dr. Rizal's political purpose that led to his martyrdom but crumbled and abolished the oppressive Spanish rule leading to the liberation of the Philippines.
The Spoliarium is indisputably the country's most important National Cultural Treasure.


Why Baron is a recidivist

Saturday, 17 March 2018 00:00 Published in Life Style

Persons afflicted with bipolar disorder usually try to balance themselves with alcohol and marijuana to prevent shifting to a depressive mood. Although incurable, it is manageable, according to a psychiatrist.
Afflicting creative types from John Lennon to Lady Gaga, the disorder explains why actor Baron Geisler, who is manic depressive, has to guzzle beer repeatedly although unexposed to smoke weed.
Depressed for the longest time after the death of mom Gracia, who he swears was his only true supporter, the intoxicated Baron came to believe family members were ganging up on him. His brother-in-law Michael Robinstone Morales accused him of trespassing on the privacy of wife and daughter while dressing and hurling a “nasty, hurtful word” to his daughter.
He went amok with a kitchen knife and threatened to kill Morales, who retaliated by knocking his face. Baron ended up in the slammer, mashed and bloodied. This is the worst suffering he self-inflicted from the neuro chemical imbalance. Will his recidivism get worst?
Baron recognizes nobody when in the bipolar episode and he has to try to stop the shift to depression by drinking alcohol. Michael claims to attend to Baron usually when in trouble with the disorder.
As to be expected, Baron pleaded support from his family attackers. Michael is willing to do just that as long as he agrees to undergo rehabilitation. Will Baron agree? He has no other choice as his freedom – and likely safety ? depends on it.

BIG BUSINESS WILL BLOCK BORACAY CLOSURE. The Duterte government, which now faces some very weird developments such as freeing Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim from their drug cases, is likely not to continue with its decision the close Boracay for a period to allow the island to regenerate. This could be due to big business interests.
“Look at Boracay, it [earns] P20 billion yearly. But I was told the original settlers of Boracay - they're called kulots – are somewhere there in the mountains," said the former Environment head Gina Lopez during her speech at the launch of nationwide search “Quest for Love.”
To be featured on her travel show G Diaries, Gina referred to the Ati people of Aklan. "I don't like Boracay. But the people who live in Boracay, where are they? They're somewhere there in the mountain,” Gina stated in a business conference last year.
"That's their home, that's their island, and they're somewhere there in the mountains. You can never bring on economic growth like this," she added.
Gina noted how there is a lack of "genuine" economic growth in Boracay. The long-time environment advocate said she is "very much in favor of what the president is doing.”
“It can't be business at a cost of taking care of the environment. You know, you'll ruin everything, so it's good you come down strong and everybody else gets on their feet," Gina opined.
The Senate committee on environment conducted a probe into the tourist destination opposed total closure Boracay. Some committee members have business interest there recommended only to close establishments that did not comply with environmental standards. 
Gina said the island can have genuine economic growth through area development, which her foundation "I Love" wishes to accomplish.

FASTFOOD GOURMET AT TOKYO TOKYO RESTAURANT. I lunched at Tokyo Tokyo restaurant at Robinson Otis on March 12, ordering its Unagi-Style Bangus bento plain, meaning no sauce and the unlimited rice plain (without black sesame seeds) at P175 per serving. I did not mind vegetable misono and the Red Ice Tea as I can opt not to consume them.
I ordered it this way as I have a vascular disease and eating spicy food will cause the disorder to act up. I emphasized this health to the cashier. And it was served as I wanted it. I like it much as a thick fillet of fresh-tasting bangus was served grilled.
The second time I ordered it plain was problematic. Specifying the same to the cashier, my order was served regular. I returned it, informing them if it is served not as I specified, again informing the food server I have a dietary necessity, telling them I will not compromise my health so I am cancelling my order if they couldn’t.
The shift supervisor approached me to explain they could not serve as I specified “on orders of head office” as the bangus fillet would disintegrate if grilled without the sauce. I don’t know how this is possible as the sauce is added after being grilled. He insisted, but I stood firm as I know my health needs.
He backed out and after some time, my order was served as I specified, but with the black sesame seeds sprinkled on top of the white rice. I had to return it again, but when the female food server returned it, she placed the order on the table padabog.
This Fastfood Gourmet is writing about this experience to let the Tokyo Tokyo upper management know what happens in a branch. It is clear to me training is involved here. There is the well-accepted practice that “a customer is always right.”
It is also no joke if a sick customer suffers an attack because restaurant personnel insisted on serving food bad for his health. Do they know the poor goodwill repercussion and the very probable financial loss? More importantly, the loss of a customer is this period of stiff competition.
I will not eat at Tokyo Tokyo restaurant again, not only at the Robinsons Otis branch, but wherever it is available. Their prices are not actually value for money and turnover is not necessarily fast. Why waste a customer who has a dietary need with an unfriendly employee?
That’s my Tokyo Tokyo experience.

ICE QUITS GOVERNMENT POST. Aiza Seguerra, who had changed her first name to Ice, has resigned as the chairperson of the National Youth Commission, Malacañang announced. Presidential spokesperson Roque did not elaborate on the reasons for Seguerra’s resignation effective April 15.
Just before the resignation, Ice expressed her disagreement to the postponement of the May 2018 barangay elections, which has been officially reset to October 2018. It is unknown if his decision is linked to this shift as he officially stated that the cause is due to “personal reasons.”
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Ice said he personally tendered his resignation to President Rodrigo Duterte last March 5. He said he wanted to personally explain his reasons directly to the President, “knowing how social media can exaggerate or twist the truth.”
“I wanted to make sure that he’s going to hear it from me. He was very understanding and supportive of my decision,” he wrote. “Para siyang tatay. Nakinig, inintindi at pinalakas ang loob ko. I told him how much I valued his trust and how this experience made me appreciate public service and our public servants,” he added. He did not elaborate further.
It is not immediately known if wife, Film Development Council of the Philippines chief Liza Diño-Seguerra, will be affected by her husband’s decision.


Taking largely from Paul Gauguin for his lively use of color, Diego de Rivera for perspective, and Juan “Tandang Juancho” Senson, Angono’s painter of religious icon in the 19th century, for tradition, Carlos “Botong” Francisco proceeded with his refinement of the mural to make it his own art form.
During his time, Angono native Botong was modern art’s most prolific practitioner as Claude Monet was to Impressionism or Fernando Amorsolo to Traditional Realism, producing the most number of murals in the country.
Visual arts flourished in the rustic towns of Angono and Binangonan in Rizal when Botong, with the advice of then Education Secretary Alejandro Roces, established a haven for artists, with the uniqueness of his sun-drenched color palette and wind-swept folk tradition and later the country’s history.
Commissioned by then newly-elected Manila mayor Antonio Villegas, who started contemporizing the old kingdom of Lakandula while returning to its roots, such as by using Tagalog (for instance, gatpuno, often clipped into Gat. for the Spanish alcalde), Filipino Struggles Through History, also known as History of Manila, is the epic 10-panel mural painted in 1964 to festoon the upper panels of Mayor Villegas’ cavernous office at the Manila City Hall, renamed Bulwagang Katipunan, now Bulwagang Gat Antonio Villegas. It is arguably Botong’s greatest extant work of art and among his last, finished only months before his death due to tuberculosis on March 31, 1969.
Depicting the history of Manila, from the pre-colonial reign of the rajahs to the American period, as well as the heroism of Dr. Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, the magnum opus perfectly captures the ordeals and feats of the Filipino people in his distinct style. With three panels depicting historical scenes from the first rajahs of Tondo all the way to the American colonial period, Botong’s timeless painting remains one of the most iconic murals about Philippine history.
The fourth painting, consisting of three panels, shows Mayor Villegas’ progressive vision for the city of Manila, grounded on a proud past of Filipino leadership and fervent nationalism.
In recognition of his superlative artistic achievement, the city of Manila awarded Botong the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan in 1964. Botong was also honored as a National Artist in Painting in 1973 and with the Republic Heritage Award in 1976.
The mural was declared a National Cultural Treasure, the highest official designation given to a cultural property, by director Gabriel Casal of the National Museum in 1996. The paintings, which had deteriorated and suffered damage from water leaks from the ceiling through the decades, were removed from Manila City Hall in January 2013 at the urgent request of mayor Alfredo Lim upon the recommendation of his adviser on culture, former Tourism Secretary and National Museum director Gemma Cruz Araneta, to undergo painstaking restoration under the supervision of the National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA), with funding by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority as facilitated by then chairman, Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr., of the Department of Tourism.
In a 2015 report, the Commission on Audit (CoA) claimed that the restoration work appeared to have been “abandoned by painting conservators hired by Laurel Design and Construction and left unattended by the assigned National Museum art conservators.” It observed the firm was a general construction contractor with no known expertise in art conservation. It also claimed that the contractor employed five of the NMFA’s own art restorers to do the work.
“Due to the award of the contract of restoration to a seemingly inadequate art restorer and the suspension of the restoration works, the purpose of preserving the art work… was not achieved,” it added.
CoA took the NMFA to task for “consent(ing) to the hiring of Laurel despite the latter’s apparent inadequacy to handle the work.” CoA also ordered museum officials to “initiate appropriate proceedings” against those involved in the mural restoration project “for possible double compensation and conflict of interest.”
It noted that in its formal reply, the NMFA management admitted that its own art conservators did not restore the painting while denying that the restoration work had been suspended.
Museum officials counter-claimed that “the main phase of the work of art was completed in 2015.” All that remained was the mural’s “transfer to and installation in a permanent location to be approved by all concerned parties,” they added.
Estimated by Manila councilor Ali Atienza in 2013 as worth P400 million, the epic mural figured in a botched conservation project worth P19.9 million. The NMFA removed the mural from the City Hall for conservation in its premises. The industry standard for the conservation of a work by a National Artist and master is 10 percent of work’s estimated price for materials and labor.
Allegedly, Fine Arts “graduates” of the University of Santo Tomas as claimed by National Museum assistant director Anna Labrador and not “students” as claimed by a former conservator who were paid P500 daily did the restoration project. Why the NMFA hired an external contractor is unknown as it has the country’s top 13 conservators who did excellent restoration of Juan Luna’s Una Bulaquena. Perhaps this was due to the many conservation projects on hand.
Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Manila City Council approved a landmark agreement in 2017 to allow the original paintings to remain at the NMFA for enhanced public access, appreciation and continued preservation.
As a major highlight of the commemoration of National Arts Month 2018, the NMFA reopened the Old Senate Session Hall at the Old Legislative Building, which has been closed for two months to allow the installation of the mural’s major parts, three of the four paintings.
The fourth painting will soon be accessible for public viewing in the adjacent Vicente and Carmen Fabella Hall (Gallery XIII) of the NMFA.
Museum-quality reproductions will be installed by the NMFA for display in their original location at the Office of the Mayor in Manila City Hall.



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