Timeless National Treasures to See in Manila
My favorite place lately when I’m in Manila is a nod to my current state of mind. As I get older, I learn to appreciate more of our nation’s history, our culture, our various art forms.
As I walked through the doors of my favorite Filipino museum for the fourth time in recent years, I felt a deep desire to share why this place is a must visit.
The National Museum of Fine Arts has recently been in the spotlight as it is where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn in on June 30. Built between 1918 and 1926, it was known as the Old Legislative Building. In 1945, Japanese forces used this structure as a stronghold for several days until American forces bombarded the building, causing widespread destruction. Rebuilding began in 1949 and many improvements have been introduced since then. On September 20, 2010, under RA 10096, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the four-story structure houses 29 galleries filled with works by 19th-century Filipino masters, national artists, major modern painters, printers, and sculptors from a variety of sources.
I have many favorite rooms that I visit every time and there are also new exhibits that are lucky enough to be in the limelight, such as the art created to celebrate “500 years of Christianity “. Because I’m a Cebuano, I felt an emotional connection to them.
There are no entrance fees. You only have to go through security and check-in, and with just a few steps inside, you are in the main gallery and the “Spoliarium” welcomes you to this treasure of a place. It took Juan Luna eight months to paint this award-winning masterpiece which won him the first gold medal of the 1884 Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. It is a depiction of barbarism and inhumanity of the Romans in the treatment of dying gladiators.
The province of Barcelona acquired the “Spoliarium” in 1885, but years later it was badly damaged by fire. It was therefore sent to Madrid for restoration, where it remained for 18 years. In 1956 the campaign to return the painting to the Philippines began and with much help and support from Spain, it found its way back on January 10, 1958.
It is also, by the way, the largest painting in the Philippines. Her size is too big to take the first time you see her. Personally, I found it too dark. But that’s why I’m completely fascinated by Luna’s work because her pieces cover a whole range of emotions for me, from heavy to light. His controversial ‘The Parisian Life’, acquired at a Hong Kong auction by GSIS amid much furor, is the star of my favorite corner in the pink-walled gallery filled with framed strokes of his genius. and his madness.
Fernando Amorsolo’s name is forever etched in history as the first national artist of the Philippines and the “Great Old Man of Filipino Art” has truly found his place in barrio landscapes and portraiture. His last unfinished portrait of Florencia Gonzales-Belo (mother of Vicky Belo) from 1972 is displayed next to a table with his art paraphernalia as well as several of his masterpieces.
Sculptures by Guillermo Tolentino are hard to miss in this massive complex. Not only is there an entire room filled with busts of historical figures, but massive statues can also be found outside the premises. I wonder how many sculptures he had made by the time he died at age 85. Honored as a National Sculpture Artist in 1973, he was buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Vicente Manansala’s work has always been legendary but looking at his work distributed in many galleries (IRRI’s collection alone is spectacular) I found something surprising. It has a lot of western-style pieces, although much smaller than the cubist murals it’s known for, and I was really drawn to them. Shortly after his death, he was awarded the honor of National Visual Arts Artist in 1981.
Nominated for National Artist for Visual Arts, Painting, Sculpture and Mixed Media in 2009, Frederico Alcuaz was never awarded the title by Supreme Court order amid controversy, but is widely known for his gesture paintings. I found myself looking at floor displays of his work on what looked like very thick fabric (I later learned it was fleece and was used by artists as an alternative art medium ) which was visually stunning.
Jose Alcantara’s woodcarvings that take up an entire room are a testament to his genius, and its centerpiece is the 50-foot-long wall sculpture commissioned by the Philam Life Foundation in 1961. The foundation donated it to the National Museum after a change of owner. of the building where it was originally placed.
There are many, many more noteworthy artists whose works are perfectly displayed in this building for all to see and enjoy. What I am sharing here is just the tip of a huge iceberg that beckons every Filipino to come and visit when you are in this area of Manila.