Find Dr. José Rizal in the Picture

POSTED: Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

One day, in 1885  at his atelier in Paris, Juan Luna prepared a big format canvas for a mannerist (wide  large open) style scene for which he is most famous.

Earlier in 1884,  in a blind jury competition, he  won the prestigious National Exposition of Fine Arts competition in Madrid .  He was awarded the First Prize for his rendering of slain gladiators being dragged to a back room deep down within the bowels of the ancient Roman Colliseum.  Here Juan Luna depicted the victims’ corpses  being dragged for despoiling (spoliarium) their garments and other belongings.

The painting was titled Spoliarium. (Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo’s painting,  Christian virgins exposed to the mob garnered the second prize in the same art competition.)   Rizal gave the celebratory toast honoriing these two gentlemen at a dinner held in Hotel Inglés, Madrid.  In his toast he pointed out that these two Filipinos’s artistic talent and individual genius bested  their Spanish competitors in a fair and blind contest.


Heady with success, Luna received many art commissions.  One was for a mannerist painting of a Philippine historical scene.

History recalls that in 1565, when the Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi landed in Cebu, he began to explore the neighboring islands of  Bohol, Negros, and Mindanao.  In each island with a friendly chief, he was obliged to perform the friendship or brotherhood ritual of Sandugo or blood compact.  Luna chose this particular event El Pacto de Sangre– The Blood Compact to paint.

Juan Luna, this greatest of Filipino painters,  primed his canvas with rabbit resin glue. He ragged his brushes for painting hair, beards, mustaches and fine strokes. He ground his colors into pigments: lapis lazuli for blues, cochneal  shells for purples,  mineral cinnabar for reds, cobalt with oxide for greens, ochre italian for yellows.  (I’m sure his mixing of pigments with solvents tinted with lead had gradually poisoned his blood stream and affected his disposition because he was known to often fly into wild rages of anger at the smallest slight.)

On his canvas, he sketched that historic moment.  Each representative chief, facing each other, nicks his arm,  drips  blood  into a glass of local wine, pours the mixed drink into his own glass and drinks a toast to the effect that:  No Spaniard were to enter the local villages without the chief’s  presence.  And in the true spirit of brotherhood, to use only legally approved measures in trade.
Luna needed several models to sit for this Still Life.  His choice for Legazpi was clear.  The physician, Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera,  Philippine-born (Insular) of Spanish parents, fit the bill perfectly.  But who must model Chief Sikatuna of Bohol?
Luna carefully studied the profiles and contours of the Filipino compatriots who constantly milled around his studio.  Valentin Ventura won’t do: he’s too  lanky and skinny.  Baldomero Roxas’ head is disproportionate to his neck.  Pedro Paterno, with too many social engagements, will be disruptive to the whole project.  Aguillera can’t sit still.  Rizal had a squarish broad back and bulging biceps.  (Rizal’s consistent visits to the gym paid well.)  But of course!  ¡Claro que sí! Luna got his model for Sikatuna.

Do you see Dr. José Rizal in this painting?

After sittings,  Juan Luna’s models would be full of themselves and horse around.  Once, they got Luna’s props and donned exotic costumes for a  photo tableau.  Guess where José Rizal can be found in this photo?

The Death of Cleopatra, a photo tableau
Rizal is the scribe wearing a dark Egyptian headdress,  sphinx-like in the foreground.

Valentin Ventura is the person sitting behind Cleopatra’s body in the background.

Juan Luna, draped in Roman toga, is Marc Anthony standing by Cleopatra’s feet.

(By: Penelope V. Cruz)

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