Sunday, 16 August 2015

A History Lesson @ The National Museum of the Philippines

              (The building marker outside 
                 the Museum building)

It has been in my itinerary every time I flew home to the Philippines. I have visited a lot of museums here in Seoul; the National Museum of Korea is even in my neighborhood in the Yongsan District, and yet, I have never been to the National Museum of the Philippines.

On a few occasions when I was able to venture to Manila, I got to join Carlos Celdran's walking tour around Intramuros (a must-join for Manila tourists!), and roamed Binondo District, the oldest Chinatown outside China, which has the best lumpia and hopia in Manila!   

And during my last month's vacation at home, I made sure I spared an afternoon for the Museum. Thanks to my friend, Fay, I was finally able to visit the National Museum of the Philippines!

             (The 'N' and 'M' brass door 
               handles of the Museum)
                   (Fay dwarfed by the 
              Spoliarium's significance)

Luckily for us, the traffic along the roads leading towards the Padre Burgos Drive near Rizal Park in Manila wasn't that bad. We were able to get to the Old Legislative Building that houses the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines. The next building is the Museum of the Filipino People, which houses the anthropology and archeology divisions. 

            (The gallery for religious art works 
              from the 17th-19th centuries)

The National Art Gallery has several exhibitions displayed on Level 2 (House Floor) and Level 3 (Senate Floor) of the Old Legislative Building. But one very special, priceless work of art welcomes all visitors to the Museum. It's Juan Luna's Spoliarium, a huge painting that's more than 13 feet tall and 25 feet wide. When one stands in front of this painting, it's a different kind of experience. 

                (An exhibition hall devoted 
                        to Dr. Jose Rizal)

Standing in front of the Spoliarium, my friend Fay said that she has "read and heard so much of Juan Luna's Spoliarium, but it was still an amazing experience to stand so close to it and be dwarfed by its size and significance in Philippine history".

               (Juan Luna's Interior D'un CafĂ©)

The Museum has several art galleries that display religious art from the 17th to 19th centuries; art prints from the royal botanical garden in Madrid, Spain; academic and romantic art; academic and neoclassical sculpture; classical art from the 20th century; works of art of national artists; and an homage to Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero (whose monument nearby has been photobombed).

           (The details of these high relief figures
            above the Senate Hall are spectacular)

Even if the Spoliarium was the only work of art I saw at the Museum, it was worth the trip. Why? With all those lessons in Philippine history during my grade school days mentioning about this painting, it was as if those days sitting, reading and listening to my teacher discuss the Philippine revolution were all squeezed together in one moment and culminated with me finally standing in awe and reverence right in front of Juan Luna's masterpiece. 

Seeing these other priceless paintings, sculptures and other works of art made me look back at the rich history of the Filipino heritage through art. Yes, history can also be told through images, colors and shapes, and not only through words and text books. And this visit to the National Art Gallery was a different kind of history lesson I'd never receive inside the classroom; it's a visit any Filipino should also experience. 

So, if you have an extra day or afternoon in Manila, do visit and explore the National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Filipino People of the National Museum. And always remember, those pieces are not only works of art; they are a history lesson unto themselves. 

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Here's the Museum's official website:

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