MANILA — On view via December 30, 2023, on the Ayala Museum, the exhibition Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero celebrates the rediscovery of Luna’s virtuoso depiction of a Roman wedding ceremony procession, “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” Unveiled on the museum on June 9, the canvas is on public show for the primary time because it gained a bronze medal within the 1889 Paris Common Exposition. Spoken of reverently because the misplaced “holy grail” of Philippine work, it was beforehand identified via pictures, preparatory sketches, and a coloured lithograph. It was rediscovered in a European assortment in 2014 — in a “well-appointed room with darkish velvet curtains” — by Jaime Ponce de Leon, an artwork collector and proprietor of Manila’s León Gallery public sale home; it has since spent years in a crate, ready for the precise second to be revealed.
Born within the Philippines in 1857, and broadly thought-about to be the nation’s biggest artist, Luna was a tragic determine whose standing as an internationally acclaimed painter who shattered colonial boundaries is endlessly shaded by the implications of his personal actions. The portray’s title, “Hymen, oh Hyménée!,” refers to Hymenaeus, the traditional Greek god of marriage whose title would have been chanted by a bride and her retinue throughout their procession to the bridegroom’s chamber. Set within the atrium of a luminous colonnaded domus (non-public residence), the portray’s solid contains a veiled bride, her scarlet-clad mom, three boys, 10 bridesmaids, a legionnaire, performers, and servants. The portray additionally consists of symbolic animals: a pair of sacrificial lambs and a pet turtle in a catch basin, representing the submissive bride safe in her protecting dwelling. Crimson, pink, and white roses, carried in baskets and strewn on the ground, be a part of fruits, boughs, branches, and different flowers in symbolizing affluence, ardour, and innocence. A lectus genialus (wedding ceremony sofa), vases and different standing objects, hanging oil lamps, and boldly coloured frescoes additional heighten the work’s stock of visible splendors.
Vibrant and sensuous, “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” is a marked distinction to Luna’s best-known masterpiece, “Spoliarium,” a violent crowdpleaser within the assortment of Manila’s Nationwide Museum of Fantastic Arts. Painted three years earlier than “Hymen, oh Hyménée!,” the colossal “Spoliarium” heightened the artist’s early fame after it gained certainly one of three gold medals on the 1884 Madrid Artwork Exposition. Darkish and blood-streaked, it depicts a Roman amphitheater wherein the our bodies of lifeless gladiators are being stripped of their armor and weapons in preparation for burial. Interpreted by some intellectuals of the time as an allegory for the plundering of the Philippines beneath the brutal colonial rule of the Spanish, “Spoliarium” framed Luna as a type of Filipino Jacques Louis David, an artist whose work contained coded revolutionary messages.
A part of the explanation that “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” has generated a lot curiosity is that it reveals the sunlit aspect of a painter who constructed his worldwide status on each “Spoliarium” and a morbidly erotic “Loss of life of Cleopatra” that was hidden from public view between 1887 and 2017. Painted throughout the artist’s honeymoon in Venice and Rome, “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” tasks a few of the pleasure Luna felt in his upwardly cellular marriage to the daughter of Spain’s Grand Inquisitor. In historic Rome solely residents may marry and the canvas might also specific Luna’s pleasure over being accepted by his spouse’s household. Historian Ambeth Ocampo says that “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” “was rooted in bliss and optimism, of hope for a contented and productive future.” Sadly, Luna’s sense of marital bliss was quickly changed by jealousy and suspicion.
5 years after “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” was accomplished, Luna suspected that his Spanish Mestiza spouse, Paz Pardo de Tavera, was having an affair and interrogated her. When her household then urged her to separate, Luna shot and killed each Paz and her mom. Luna was acquitted of double murder, possible resulting from Napoleonic legal guidelines and Nineteenth-century values that have been sympathetic towards crimes of ardour dedicated by males in opposition to ladies. Filmmaker Martin Arnaldo, who not too long ago accomplished a documentary in regards to the artist, says that the jury was additionally swayed by Luna’s eloquent lawyer, Albert Danet, who argued that his consumer was a easy man from a savage race — a primitive and superstitious being incapable of civilization. When the jury introduced their verdict of acquittal, it was accompanied by an explosion of pleasure from these observing the trial that required the courtroom to be evacuated earlier than Luna was ordered launched.
“If such a factor have been to have occurred right now in France,” Arnaldo presents, “Luna would have spent his remaining days incarcerated, and Paz would have change into a robust image for the protection of girls in opposition to home violence.”
For that motive, envisioning Luna as a painter/hero entails seeing him via one other lens. As Arnaldo frames it, Luna could be seen by modern Filipinos as an “Indio” who bridged the Nineteenth-century social and colonial divide by portray extra skillfully than his colonizers. “For some,” Arnaldo notes, “his work helped our colonized folks see past the constraints of colonialism, thereby aiding within the formation of our personal sovereign state. The period of Luna finally paved the way in which for the revolution of 1896 and the proclamation of independence from Spain.”
By 1890, after studying the works of Karl Marx, Luna shifted from portray tutorial Greco-Roman themes to depicting modern Parisian life. He left France in 1893, traveled to Madrid, after which made the Philippines his base of operation. More and more politically lively, he was briefly imprisoned by Spanish authorities for his pro-revolutionary actions. After his launch in 1897, he was appointed by the chief board of the Philippine revolutionary authorities as a member of the Paris delegation and traveled to Washington DC to press for recognition of the Philippines as a sovereign nation. Luna’s demise in Hong Kong on the age of 42, a yr and a half after the Philippines gained its independence from Spain, was recorded as being attributable to cardiac arrest however rumors that he was poisoned persist.
Though he didn’t stay lengthy sufficient to see the twentieth century, Luna’s twin cultural identification endowed his most bold works with a hybridity and cross-cultural stress that really feel surprisingly trendy. The rediscovery and exhibition of “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” supply a recent alternative to ponder the function Luna performed within the early formation of Philippine politics and tradition. Within the alert, nervous eyes of the portray’s veiled fever-dream bride, the fervour that charged each brushstroke is palpable.