A peek into Kapitan Tiago’s house
Dramatic indeed was the closing of the International Congress on Jose Rizal in 1961, when news leaked that the original manuscripts of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” “El Filibusterismo,” and “Mi Ultimo Adios” were stolen from the National Library and held for ransom. These historic manuscripts were recovered piecemeal by then Education Secretary Alejandro R. Roces in an amazing story that should be made into a film someday.
When Roces recovered the “Noli” late in the afternoon one day, there was no bank vault available to secure it. He refused to turn it over to the National Library, at first saying that “they lost it once already,” so he brought it home for safety. He also showed it to his wife, Irene Viola, daughter of Maximo Viola, who, at one low point in Rizal’s life, offered the P300 that led to the printing of the “Noli” and the sealing of Rizal’s fate. It was providential that Maximo Viola saved the “Noli” manuscript from a fire in 1886; his son-in-law would save the manuscript again in 1962 from kidnappers.
Pieces from Roces’ Filipiniana collection have been put on the block at recent auctions, and I am waiting to see one painting again—a “letras y figuras” (letters and figures) by Jose Honorato Lozano who was active in 1820-1880. These charming works document scenes of everyday life in the 19th century. In the Roces collection, the painting spells out “BALVINO MAURICIO,” with each individual letter ingeniously formed from human figures in various costumes and occupations of the time. Completed in November 1864 and measuring 93 x 113 centimeters, this painting captures the elegance of a Manila house of the time. What makes this work important is the fact that Lozano provides us with a peek into the house described by Rizal in the opening chapter of the “Noli” (1887).
The painting is divided into four panels: Two panels spell out the patron’s first name and surname; the third depicts views outside the walls of Intramuros, and the fourth provides a complete representation of an upper-class house of the times. Because Balvino Mauricio was a prominent Binondo merchant, Lozano painted for him three important landmarks outside Spanish Manila: the monument to Ferdinand Magellan (that once stood by the Pasig River somewhere near the present Bureau of Immigration office), the bronze statue of Isabel II (that once stood on the side of the Pasig facing Binondo), and the Teatro de España (of which Mauricio was presumably a regular patron). The statue of Isabel II was moved to the front of Malate Church and stood there until it was thrown down by Typhoon “Yoling” in 1970. It now stands in front of Puerta Isabel near Letran in Intramuros.
As a Rizal scholar, I am drawn to the panel showing the interiors of a Binondo home believed to be that of Balvino Mauricio—the ground-floor courtyard and stable, the staircase from the entrance hall with its ornate grillwork, the sala or living room, the corridor leading to the bedrooms, and finally the dining room. Reading the opening chapters of the “Noli” with this painting in mind is like walking through the house of Santiago de los Santos (or Kapitan Tiago) located on Anloague Street:
“A wide stairway with green balustrades and rug-covered steps leads to the house from an entrance hall overlaid with painted glazed tiles, amidst potted green plants and baskets of flowers atop porcelain pedestals of motley colors and fantastic designs… At the center is a long table … surrounded by colossal mirrors and sparkling chandeliers. Over there on a pine platform is the magnificent grand piano… The furniture is elegant, but somewhat uncomfortable and unhealthy: The owner of the house is more concerned with the luxury of his household than with any hygienic consideration for the wellbeing of his guests.”
According to Jose Alejandrino, a contemporary of Rizal, the fictional Kapitan Tiago was modeled on the businessman Telesforo Chuidian who lived on 175 Anloague (now Juan Luna) Street in Binondo. However, Alejandrino was confused by Rizal’s admission that the house described in the “Noli” belonged to Balvino Mauricio. As far as Alejandrino could remember, the house on Anloague Street belonged to Telesforo Chuidian “because, as a matter of fact, my wife was born in it in the year 1878.” What Alejandrino did not know then was that Balvino Mauricio was the original owner of the Chuidian house.
Balvino Mauricio is not in our textbooks even though he was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny of 1872. During the wave of arrests following the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, Mauricio hurriedly sold his house to Chuidian and escaped to Hong Kong where he later died an impoverished and forgotten man. This letras y figuras work was acquired from the heirs of Mauricio in Hong Kong, and brought back to Manila where it eventually ended up with Roces.
There are but a handful of letras y figuras paintings done by Lozano extant today, all of them priceless, but the “Balvino Mauricio” is singular because of its references to Philippine history and literature. Lozano made a living painting tourist souvenirs that preserved the past for the Filipinos of another generation.
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