15 Treasures of the Philippines at the National Museum of Fine Arts

It might be purely coincidental that my visits to the National Museum happen every decade. The first time I was in the museum was in the 1990s, it was the time when the Philippine Senate was sharing the old Legislative building with them. It was cramped and even the hallways were full of exhibits because of the lack in space. The Spoliarium by Juan Luna wasn't even on display at that time.

The second time was in 2008 and the place had a semblance of a more organized museum.

My recent visit was a couple of weeks ago and I've seen tons of improvement. I got so excited that I wanted to spend the entire day at the museum. The National Museum of Fine Arts is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10AM-5PM. It's free of charge but if you want to donate for the upkeep, you can do that.

Make sure that you allocate some time to fully enjoy the experience. It doesn't make any sense if you do a marathon of going from one room to another, you will not be able to appreciate the hidden gems of our artistic culture that way. 

I'm obsessed with our History especially the Spanish and American periods. It didn't help with my addiction that my dad brought home a complete set of Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People during my vacation in Manila. When I went back to Cebu, I brought with me the volumes that contained the Spanish era so that I could use them as a reference for my future posts. 

In this post, I've curated fifteen treasures of the National Museum of Fine Arts that every Filipino should know about. I hope this will spur an interest in finding out more about the artists and the art objects. The desire of learning more comes at a critical moment especially in today's climate of discovering our Filipino heritage. 

I'm not including Juan Luna's Spoliarium since it has been closely associated with the National Museum. I want to highlight other masterpieces that have been overlooked.

El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante (circa 1898-1904)

Painted by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo in Paris, this oil in canvas is located at the Spoliarium Hall.

The painting is also known as La Iglesia Contra el Estrado (The Church against the State). It is an interpretation of Hidalgo of the assassination of Spanish Governor-General Fernando Manuel de Bustillo. 

Recuerdo de Patay (Memento Mori of a child)

A 19th Century tradition of remembering the dead, the oil painting was done by Simon Flores y de la Rosa in 1896.

Letras y Figuras

A unique art form populated by Jose Honorato Lozano. Letras y Figuras depicted everyday scenes, landscapes, and portraiture that created an optical illusion. Artists who specialized in this type of painting arranged the scenes to create letters of patrons' names. 

There are two Letras y Figuras featured in the National Museum collection. These were done by Miguel Añonuevo in 1885.


Rendered in polychrome concreto by the Premier Maestro of Sculpture, Isabelo Tampinco. The artist was in danger of being forgotten by Filipinos due to the majority of his works being destroyed during World War II.

A resurgence of interest on the works of Tampinco has occurred and we are lucky to have a glimpse of his glory.

World War II

There is a special exhibit of paintings that chronicled the horrors of World War II. 

National Artist Fernando Amorsolo created artworks that depicted the destruction of Manila. One of this is the featured The Burning of Manila, oil on Masonite, painted in 1942.

I wanted to post a different painting but it was too graphic. 

Maria Clara

An unusual Ink on Paper by National Artist Vicente S. Manansala who is more known for his Modernism and Abstractism. 

It's not very clearly on the photo because of the reflection of the glass but you can see a shadowy figure of Padre Salvi menacing the beautiful Maria Clara. 

Mi Hermano en Nuestra Celda en la Fuerza de Santiago 

The Luna brothers (Antonio and Juan) were imprisoned in 1896 for being involved with the Katipunan. They were released by the Spanish courts in 1897 (Juan had a lot of connections). Juan Luna painted his brother, Antonio, in their Fort Santiago cell. 

Alcuaz Tapestries

Federico Aguilar Alcuaz was named National Artist for Visual Arts in 2009. A Czech artist introduced Alcuaz to the art of tapestries.

Alcuaz's creative process is also explained in the special exhibition. It is unusual to see an artist using a different medium other than canvas to produce breathtaking masterpieces.

The Guillermo E. Tolentino Exhibit

National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo E. Tolentino has his own exhibit hall in the museum.

Various busts and statues created by Tolentino are displayed. What I find interesting are the ones he created for famous people. There were several for Philippine Presidents and even General Douglas McArthur had one. 

Portrait of a Lady

The controversial painting by Juan Luna. Scholars have debated over the years if the subject of the painting was the artist's wife, Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera. But a clue has been provided by Luna through the name of the painting, Mi Novia. Why not name it after his wife?  

It has been transferred from one place to another because of the superstition that the painting is cursed. It has finally found it's permanent home in the museum.

Botanical Plates of Juan de Cuellar

The entire collection of fifty drawings was donated by His Majesty the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos I in 1995. Juan de Cuellar was a Royal Botanist who commissioned these between 1786 and 1797.

Studio Furniture of Fernando Amorsolo

National Artist for Painting, Fernando Amorsolo is the master of portraiture. 

The studio furniture and assorted items were donated by the artist's widow, Maria del Carmen Amorsolo. These items were located in his studio during his death in 1972.

The unfinished portrait is Nena Belo, Vicki Belo's mother. The famous dermatologist related the story of this 'missing' painting on her Instagram page. 

Colonial Religious Art

The first exhibit located on the Ground Floor, Religious art created during the Spanish period (especially during the early centuries of Spanish occupation) by unknown local artists have been highly-prized by collectors.

Much of the church treasures were either lost over time, destroyed by natural calamities or war, and sold by priests. 

La Verganza de la Madre (The Mother's Revenge)

The ultimate Filipino Renaissance Man, Jose Rizal sculpted this terracotta statue during his exile in Dapitan. The inscription says, Rizal Dapitan 1894.

Noli Me Tangere Paintings

A special exhibit of twenty-eight Noli Me Tangere Paintings by Leonardo Tayao Cruz. I wrote a separate post about these paintings (Noli Me Tangere: 28 Paintings at the National Museum of Fine Arts).

Please forgive me as I write more and more about our History and Culture in my upcoming posts. Learning about our past gives us an opportunity to look forward to the future. Our present connects us to our past and future.