Never before have I experienced a good few hours appreciating profound visual statements in the form of art in South East Asia until I visited the National Art Gallery in Manila. The National Art Gallery is also called the National Museum of Fine Arts and is a branch of the National Museum. The other branches of National Museum are the Museum of the Filipino People and the Planetarium. All of these museum branches are located on the northeastern side of Rizal Park.
Situated in a neoclassical building which was formerly the home of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, the National Art Gallery houses some of Philippines’ classical painting and sculpture collections from the 17th century to avant-garde.
Exhibitions start at the entrance of the museum (Level 2 – House Floor) that was formerly the old House of Representatives Session Hall in which the largest painting in the Philippines called the Spoliarium is hung.
The impressive Spoliarium is an oil painting by a classical Filipino artist, Juan Luna who submitted this artwork as an entry to the highly regarded Madrid Art Exposition in the 1880s that won him a First Gold Medal. Spoliarium is a chamber where dead bodies of gladiators are taken to be stripped of their armour, weapons and garments before disposal. The painting illustrates the horrors inside the Spoliarium – if you look closely at the picture below – at the centre of the painting shows the killed gladiators dragged by the Roman soldiers; on the left, spectators are eagerly waiting to strip off the armour of the fallen gladiators but on the right, a contrast in emotions, weeping over the dead.
The Spoliarium had a socio-political influence especially with Jose Rizal who in his nationalistic ideals applauded this significant achievement of Juan Luna (alongside the Silver Medal winner, Felix Hidalgo who was also a Filipino artist) that there were Filipino artists who had fought against the tyrannical rule of the Spaniards, very simply, through works of art.
Other works of art
Exhibitions continue across galleries on Level 2 and Level 3 (Senate Floor), and here are some of the artworks on display:
Sculpture Works of Guillermo E. Tolentino
Academic and Romantic Art
Conflict and Suffering during Japanese Occupation
Homage to Jose Rizal
Abstract Art and Selected Modern Works
Address: Padre Burgos Avenue, Ermita, Manila.
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am to 5.00pm
Entrance Fees: Admission is now permanently free of charge for all visitors (Filipino and foreign)
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