Looking for Clues: An Art Mystery at Waterfront Hotel Cebu

I always liked a good mystery especially if it involves the Art world. I've watched documentaries about stolen Art, forgeries and even stories behind the paintings. And I never thought I would end up with a mystery on my hands.

The Art of the Lobby Lounge

One February afternoon, I was invited to a French High Tea event hosted by the Lobby Lounge. As I was enjoying the French pastries, my eyes wandered up towards the ceiling mural.

It wasn't the first time I've seen the painting but that afternoon something about it piqued my interest.

I started looking for clues.

I've been to Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City several times over the years. They've hosted concerts and parties that I have attended. I've been a hotel guest and stayed in their rooms. I've tried some of its restaurants. I even tried my luck at the casino.

But what would resonate with the guests is the hotel's castle-like structure. Since it opened in 1998, the hotel has been part of the City skyline. I'm not sure if the guests or visitors of Waterfront Hotel know that it has a large collection of paintings that are displayed throughout its premises.

I checked if there was a brochure or book about their Art collection. I even talked to some employees, unfortunately, they didn't have any material about their paintings.

As the World turns

When you first enter the hotel, you are greeted by a massive map depicting the world during the 1600s or 1700s. Some countries or even continents are not portrayed since they haven't been "discovered" during this time.

Waterfront's old world map

As a history geek, I wanted to closely study it and look at the details. I discretely took some photos of the mural and started my research once I got home.

Waterfront's Map is a composite of different antique maps. I compared it with Father Pedro Murillo Velarde's 1734 Philippine map and other old world maps. And found some similarities in terms of the language used, layout and design. You could say that the artist or artists who painted it did their homework. 

"The Mother of all Philippine Maps" circa 1734

A 17th Century reproduction

Of Cartouches and Vignettes

A cartouche is a decorative emblem or frame that contains details about the map. They were widely used by cartographers or map makers during this period. 

The Waterfront Hotel's map has three cartouches that has inscriptions about Ferdinand Magellan, Spain, and the Americas.

Magellan was the first explorer to cross the Pacific ocean and reached the Philippines in 1521. He originally named the Islands, Las Islas de San Lazaro, since it was the Saint's Feast Day when he landed in one of the southern islands. It would be Spanish explorer, Ruy Lopez Villalobos who would finally give the name Islas de Filipinas as a tribute to Crown Prince Philip, who would become Philip II of Spain.

Mexico, as part of the Spanish Empire, would act as middleman between Spain and the Philippines. Majority of the influences in our language, food, culture, and society came from Mexico.

Cartouche trivia about Magellan, Spain and the Americas

Vignettes that show Historical scenes, National Heroes and Cebu Landmarks were painted along the edges of the map. These illustrations anchor the fact that the hotel is located in Cebu.

Historical celebrities: Rizal, Luna, Roxas and Lapu-Lapu

Jose P. Rizal is the National Hero of the country. Lapu-Lapu was the Mactan Chieftain who defeated Magellan's forces and forced the Spaniards off the islands for fifty years.

Maybe as an Artist's choice, Juan Luna was picked since he was the creator of the most famous and influential Philippine mural, Spoliarium

One of the questions that I wanted to ask was, of all the Philippine Presidents to be included in the mural, why Manuel A. Roxas and not Sergio Osmena, Sr. President Osmena was Cebuano and wouldn't it be more appropriate for him to be represented. I consider that a mystery.

But after thinking it over (this is just my opinion), Manuel A. Roxas became part of the mural because he was President when the Philippines was made into a Republic in 1946. If the mural's goal was to show significant events then that would be an important one.

In this section of the map, it shows the Magellan marker located in Punta Engano. The marker is part of the Mactan Shrine that commemorates the Battle of Mactan.

The "Bahay na Bato" or stone and wood houses, popular during the 19th Century, are also featured. These houses are unique to the Philippines because of the Spanish, Chinese and Filipino influences in the architecture, design, and materials used.

The image of the First Mass with the Spanish Conquistadores and Raja Humabon tells the conversion of the locals.

Spanish influences in the Philippines

The following vignettes portrayed the beginning of the Cebuanos' devotion to the Santo NiƱo (Child Jesus), how the waterways were the lifeblood of our ancestors, a victorious Lapu Lapu, and a Christian martyr.

Faith and War: Raja Lapu Lapu and a Filipino Christian martyr

Devotion and Lifeblood

The Artists

By observing every nook and crany of the painting, I was able to find the names of the artists who created the painting. And that the mural was done in 1997.

The three names were listed under Rizal's picture: O. Flores, M. Nellas, and A. Arcilla. 

I want to ask them how long they made the project; what was the division of labor; which part was painted by which artist; did they do research, and what was their inspiration?

So many questions but so few answers.

Who were the artists?

The Waterfront Hotel's Mural Map might not be 100% accurate or artistically beautiful but it does serve a specific purpose. And that purpose is to create a dramatic and eye-catching view.