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Looking Back

Luna and Hidalgo in Europe

When students ask for a soft copy of an assigned source or reading, I often reply that some things are best read in print form. I then take the opportunity to remind them that not all things are available online, that there are times when a visit to the library, the archive or the museum is required, if only to handle a physical book, read a physical document, or gaze upon a physical artifact.

It must be my Jurassic analog training but, in the days before Opac (online public access catalogue), when books were listed on cards in a card catalog, I would go over each and every item under “Philippines,” noting down what I needed at the time, and also what I might need in the future. When tracking a book down by call number, I would scan the entire shelf, reading titles off the spines of the books, pulling out what interested me, even those I did not need at the time. This method provided me with a mental map of the library, helping me to easily locate books by size, color, title and author faster than a librarian could say “Dewey Decimal System.” The system works fine — until books are reshelved after the annual inventory.

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Going through a library or archive has its pleasant surprises, too. For example, many years ago in the Universidad Complutense archives in Madrid, I was hot on the trail of records from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, hoping to find the grades of 19th-century Filipino painters Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, and perhaps other Pinoys like Miguel Zaragoza, Esteban Villanueva and Melecio Figueroa.

To my great disappointment I found nothing in all but one of the boxes. I wasn’t looking for what I found in it, and didn’t even know about it, but an afternoon of research yielded only one document: Jose Rizal’s application to study art in the academy. We all know he was busy studying medicine, yet he had the time to study art, fencing, Italian and other subjects that made him, in the end, more than the usual medicine graduate from the Universidad Central de Madrid.

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While I have been researching on Luna and Hidalgo since the 1980s, it is only in recent years that perseverance has been rewarded with a lot of documentary material: archival documents, correspondence, photographs, original sketches, drawings and finished paintings previously unknown or known only through prewar photographs. Both Luna and Hidalgo attended the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura in Manila, as well as the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. Both left Madrid for Italy, where they were accredited to the Spanish Academy in Rome. There, immersed in so much history, they produced the huge canvasses that put their names in Philippine history.

In the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, their works, inspired by scenes from ancient Rome, were awarded medals: a gold for Luna’s “Spoliarium” and a silver for Hidalgo’s “The Christian Virgins Exposed to the Mob.” From then on, Hidalgo would always be a quiet shadow to the sun that was Luna.

People have to be reminded, however, that these gold and silver medals should not be seen as Olympic gold, silver and bronze, with only three winners. Luna did not win first place and Hidalgo second. Rather, Luna garnered one gold medal of three that were given out that year; he was not awarded the much-coveted Medal of Honor that was withheld that year. Hidalgo won one silver medal out of at least 15 given out that year. Still, despite this little detail, Luna and Hidalgo are heralded in history as the “first international Filipino painters.”

After their victories in 1884, Luna and Hidalgo moved to Paris and worked in a cluster of apartments on 65 Boulevard Arago. The apartments, known as the Cite Fleury then as now, are only rented out to painters and sculptors. This was the first of Luna’s three Paris addresses, while Hidalgo lived the better part of his life in this apartment and, though a bachelor, was known to have had a companion named Maria Yrritia who appears in some of his paintings.

After Hidalgo’s death in Barcelona in 1912, Maria brought back his remains to Manila in 1913. She accepted the Hidalgo family’s invitation to settle in the Philippines and closed the apartment in Paris, but on her way to Manila was lost in a shipwreck off the coast of Africa.

There must be more to this story, so the research continues.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, felix resurreccion hidalgo, Jose Rizal, juan luna, Looking Back, OPAC, printed books
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