Juan Luna and Jose Rizal: The Lost Noli Bocetos

Sisa in San Diego

Last year, I visited the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City several times and that was when I took an interest in their Lobby ceiling.

It's a large mural of a vintage world map and on the two corners of the painting are cartouches of Jose Rizal and Juan Luna. I wrote about it in an earlier post as I was intrigued on who painted it and the meaning behind the design.

I've noticed that I've been pondering a lot on the connection between Luna and Rizal. It's evident on the reading materials that I've been going through and the articles that I have written.

The Expat Files

When Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo won the gold and silver medals (respectively) in the Exposicion National de Bellas Artes in 1884, the Filipino expatriate community threw them a fete.

One of the speakers who honored them that night was Rizal who eventually would create his own works of genius in the following years.

Luna and Rizal were expatriates in Europe from the farthest Spanish colony in the East. They were joined by others who would come to be known as the Ilustrados or Enlightened Ones; Indios and mestizos who had the benefit of higher education.

By the mid-19th century, wealthy merchant and tenant families were able to send their sons to Europe for further studies. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the introduction of steamships made travel easy from Spain to the Philipines and vice-versa.

The declaration of independence of Mexico and most of the Spanish colonies in South America led Spain to finally directly take control of the Philippines.

The tumultuous decades after the 1872 Cavite Mutiny became the stage of the Philippine Enlightenment era.

Rizal would also create drawing portraits of Luna and Hidalgo to celebrate their achievements. There's a copy of this that can be found in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.

Both Rizal and Luna were Ilustrados, well-educated, talented, and passionate. Luna who was older than Rizal by four years had similar interests with the younger man. They became fast friends and their relationship became even tight-knit when Luna married into the Pardo de Taveras.

Dona Consolacion de Alferez

Luna would often use his friends as muses in his paintings. Most prominent of them all was Luna's The Parisian Life featuring Rizal, Luna, and Ariston Bautista seated in a cafe or bar admiring a young woman.

This painting was purchased by GSIS in 2002 at a Christie's Auction in Hong Kong for the amount of PHP 46 million. GSIS received flak for purchasing such 'extravagant' artwork. But many applauded the move to bring back our National Treasures.

The Parisian Life is currently displayed in the National Museum of Fine Arts. I wonder why it is not exhibited together with the rest of the Luna collection.

It's on a separate area and unlike the Spoliarium which is distinctly placed near the museum's entrance; the only reason I can think of its still part of the GSIS collection.

It wasn't all work for these young men who were thousands of miles away from home, their antics and youthful bravado were captured for eternity in photographs.

Good thing that these photos are accessible online. We can get a glimpse of how human our Philippine Heroes were. They weren't just names in textbooks or statues in town plazas.

Going, Going, and Gone

Recently, Filipinos were caught in an art and history frenzy when a newly-discovered boceto or sketch of the Spoliarium was put under the hammer. Salcedo Auctions, who handled the sale, added an air of mystery and drama in its story of proving the provenance of the Luna oil sketch.

It was surmised that the original owner of the said boceto was Pedro Paterno and his Spanish wife who passed it on to her branch of the family.

It could have been a deliberate act on the part of the Auction House to have the sale on September 22nd but the date seemed ominous to those who are familiar with the events that happened 126 years ago.

You see, Juan Luna committed murder on September 22, 1892. This was the day he shot his brother-in-law, Felix (the only survivor), mother-in-law Juliana Gorricho Pardo de Tavera (who died on the spot), and wife Paz (who would succumb to her wound days later).

It seemed a cruel joke to play; it could also be that Salcedo Auctions took this as a challenge to sell a Luna painting on this ill-fated day.

There was much hype surrounding the authenticity of the boceto. Tracing the provenance of the study yielded three origin stories. But the most likely one is based on the Paterno linkage. Photographs of Luna's Paris studio proved to be a factor.

The Spoliarium boceto fetched PHP 63 Million on auction day. 

How much would Luna's sketches of Noli Me Tangere scenes fetch if it were auctioned today?

A young Maria Clara

The Lost Noli Me Tangere Bocetos

During the infancy of the Internet in the 1990s, I've heard about a collection of drawings or sketches that Juan Luna made based on Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere.

I even read the same story in one of Ambeth Ocampo's articles but I have never glimpsed any of that artwork. They remained elusive and hard to find.

I tried looking for photos on the world wide web but to no avail.

In January of this year, while I was visiting my dad's workplace in Laguna, he remembered that his boss gave him a complete set of the 10-volume Kasaysayan series (The Story of the Filipino) published by Reader's Digest.

My brothers and I have been coveting this series for years, just to find out that my Dad had it all along. I literally felt my heart skipped a beat when I saw the box and opened it to reveal the hardbound books.

In the volume about Reform and Revolution, I noticed that there were several vignettes that were described as scenes from Noli Me Tangere. And these artworks were created by Juan Luna.

I finally found the lost Noli Me Tangere bocetos. I was a little bit emotional when I saw them because it did prove that they were in existence.

We have to thank the preeminent scholar, art dealer, and photographer Alfonso Ongpin for the black and white photos. He was able to take photographs of most of Luna's paintings and belongings before the onset of World War II. The Noli Me Tangere bocetos were part of the lot.

Unfortunately, most of the collection including the Noli sketches were destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945.

In the edition of Asuncion Bantug Lopez's "Lolo Jose: An Intimate and Illustrated Portait of Jose Rizal" published by Vibal Foundation and the Intramuros Administration, there is an excerpt from a letter by Juan Luna to Jose Rizal dated January 30, 1892. It refers to the Noli sketches that he made. 

"I send you herewith twenty-one sketches for the Noli. I send them to you for such use as you may desire to make of them, without waiting for those of the others to whom I have given your orders. 

If you wish, I will also illustrate El Filibusterismo, and if you desire, give me some short propaganda matter so that ten of fifteen illustrations can be made...

My work will be gratis and all that will have to be paid is the ordinary printing..."

Pilosopong Tacio

Juan Luna prepared the watercolor illustrations to accompany the Tagalog version of the Noli Me Tangere. Rizal's older brother, Paciano, undertook the task of translating the book. We can assume that the bocetos were made by Luna between 1887 to 1892. 

One can see that these sketches were rough drafts but some of the scenes that Luna chose to depict shows his artistic perspective. Yes, he drew the prominent characters but he also focused on the scenery (e.g townsfolk, 'Sabong', the lake chase). 

In most of the Noli scenes, we can see that there is a 'B' on the corner of the canvas which stands for 'Bulan', the Ilocano word for 'Luna'. The artist was known to use this kind of signature. 

I was talking to a fellow History enthusiast about these studies when he shared that in the 1960s or 1970s some of the high school editions of Noli Me Tangere featured these sketches.

What would the series look like if Luna was able to complete the actual artwork? And if these bocetos were not lost during World War II, would it be displayed in the National Museum of Fine Arts or be owned by a private collector? 

These are just a couple of questions that would be left unanswered and would never be addressed because of the loss. 

A Gallery of Sketches

Maria Clara

Basilio and Crispin

The Lake Chase


San Diego townsfolk

The famous Azotea

More Readings About Noli Me Tangere: