(As a background, this painting of Juan Luna depicts a scene of what Roman history has also been remembered for – gladiator matches. At the center you can see the fallen gladiators being dragged away and on the far right, the people mourning for their losses. Spoliarium is a Latin word referring to the basement of the Roman Colosseum where the fallen and dying gladiators are dumped and devoid of their worldly possessions. This painting was made by Luna as an entry to the prestigious Madrid Art Exposition on May 1884, to which he won the First Gold Medal.)
I got to see in person this magnificent and jaw-dropping painting of Juan Luna at the National Museum of the Philippines. It was National Heritage Month and the museum’s opened for free, so I took the opportunity to be enthralled and just be blown away by the masterpieces displayed at the museum. And this my folks, is beyond words for me!
As I entered the hall where this giant painting of Luna is displayed, I just find myself staring and admiring it – not only for the detail that went into it, but the story and the emotions it managed to capture and encapsulate. I admired how the painting was able to take you into the past and let you peek and feel at the same time that it is as if you are part of the story.
I took one good look at it again before going to see the other paintings displayed at the museum. The day passed. I went home and I took Spoliarium with me. I took it with me through my camera and in my heart. It was the only painting that captured me in the most profound way I can imagine. Spoliarium struck to me as a mirror. It showed me a reflection of who I am, in this world, in my country particularly. That just as how one would be an audience of his painting, so have I become an audience of my surroundings. A spectator able to see and feel the carnage, the injustice, the loss of lives and the diminution of values – but can do nothing but simply, Stare. To be simply enthralled by the drawings but remain apathetic to the characters. To see and feel it all, but still do nothing.
Ending this on a lighter note, Juan Luna may not have wanted his painting to be construed in that way and he may have just simply wanted to highlight an important era of the past. Whichever this may be, it is of no doubt that he is superb in his artistry. Salute to you Senor Juan Luna!
*To you reading this, I hope you would have the time and opportunity to see this painting in person. 🙂