Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lost in the National Museum of the Philippines

Drawn by its Corinthian columns and elegant facade, I revisited the National Museum of the Philippines one afternoon on a whim. With no tour guide and no museum brochure,  I found myself lost inside the grand museum.  Still, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, pride, and joy as I explored its various collections on Philippine history and culture. Here are some of the wonderful things I've rediscovered:

A Silent Witness to History

The National Museum's Main Building 
When I was younger, I wondered why there were imposing statues of  former Philippine Presidents Manuel Quezon and  Sergio Osmena near the Museum's entrance.  I learned during this visit that the National Museum's Main Building is actually the Old Legislative Building, the venue of many important events in our country's history.  The flag pole at the center marks the site of the inauguration of  Commonwealth of the Philippines, when  Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena took their oath office as President and Vice President, respectively.   It was also the site of the 1934 Constitutional Convention led by Claro M. Recto.

Manila's Beginnings 

Rajah Sulayman and His Pallisades; Legazpi and the Founding of   Manila; Zoning Plan of the City of Manila
Upon entering the lobby of the National Museum's Main Building,  I noticed a wooden relief near a gallery. After taking a closer look,  I found out that it showed Rajah Sulayman, one of the three Muslim chieftains  who bravely fought against the Spanish conquistadors.  There was also another relief in the lobby which showed Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish general who defeated Sulayman and placed Manila under colonial rule. Both works were done by National Artist Napoleon Abueva.  I did not understand the significant of both works until I entered the Arellano Room. The room was named after Juan M. Arellano, a Filipino architect and painter responsible for the design of many public structures of Manila during the American period. Putting all these things together, I realized that  Abueva's wooden reliefs and Arellano's designs encapsulates the City of Manila's beginnings: First as a center of trade and power ruled by the Muslims; second as the capital of the colonized Philippine Islands; and last as a progressive city working towards liberty after decades of colonial rule.

A Crossing of Paths

Art, legend, religion and history crossed paths as I made my way around the museum's galleries and rooms. It somehow felt like being in a dream where one sees a lot of closed doors and does not know what exciting things await until a door is opened. Making the experience more surreal was the fact that I was practically alone in my exploration!

In one of the galleries, I felt like I saw Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal without his overcoat and bowler hat. Take a closer look at his work below:

Made by Filipino hero Dr. Jose Rizal
The name of this piece?  "Mother's Revenge."

In that same gallery were paintings that  depicted the sufferings of Filipinos when Japanese soldiers attacked the Philippines. The violence and atrocity during the Second World War seemed to have come to life, especially in this art work:

Over at the Grace Luna de San Pedro Collection, I was astounded by the art work of  the brilliant Filipino artist Juan Luna, especially his "Unknown Luna" paintings. It made me wonder what could have led to Luna's tragic family life, considering the beautiful things he captured on canvas. I believe his works are best appreciated in person, especially when you see the intense colors and the outstanding interplay of  light and shade.

Master Painter Juan Luna and his works 

The gods and goddesses of the Philippine islands seemed to have come down at the Vessels of Faith gallery, probably challenging me on my beliefs on life, death, and what lies beyond.

Does one go to heaven or some place else?

Naturally,  Hidalgo's, Manansala's and Amorsolo's paintings seemed to transport me to another place and time in history. Amorsolo's art, in particular, renewed my pride about our country's culture and traditions, and I could only wish that I was a subject of a Fernando Amorsolo painting like these people:

Portraits by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo
These are just some of the things I came across from getting "lost" in the National Museum of the Philippines. Aside from the National Art Gallery, the National Museum of the Philippines complex also houses the Museum of the Filipino People and the Museum of National History.  Currently, some sections of the museum are being refurbished. I am sure that when the renovation's complete, it would be a great place for spirited conversations about life, history, art, culture, tradition, and change. Best of all, a visit to the National Museum of the Philippines is free.

The National Museum Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5 p.m. To preserve the paintings, flash photography is not allowed.  At present, there are no guides in the museum although there are some travel and tour groups that offer a guided exploration of the museum's galleries for a fee. 


  1. will visit it when i go to p.i.

  2. art gallery entrance is fee but i think there's a fee for the museum of the filipino people.

  3. may idea ka po ba kung bakit hindi natapos yung isang portarit na ginawa ni fernando amorsolo?

  4. portrait rather... :)

  5. Thanks for your interest! What I only know is that it was the last portrait Amorsolo worked on and that he died before completing it.

  6. So eloquently written, Rain! I visited only 2 wks ago but too lazy to write down my Museum experience. I was actually drawn to it again after my visit to the Juan Luna Shrine. I just longed to see the Spolarium again and "feel Luna". I agree the other Lunas there are just as astounding -- whether painted by Juan himself or Andres. Must be in their blood. So much more to say/write, but yes, makes us proud!

  7. I completely adore everything about the national museum, except for one thing, the paint job of the building does not do the building any justice to its neo-classical design. Those buildings should be painted and maintained in marble white.

    Sorry but it looks cheap with the yellow pages hue and cement grey accenting. Nakaka-awa na mga buildings natin, baboy-baboy na.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I have to agree with you on the building's color. Like the Manila City Hall, it looked more elegant when it was white. The collections at the National Museum are wonderful though and I think the current administrators are doing a good job of promoting and improving the museum. Let's hope they do a good job in renovating it!


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