THE SULTAN AND THE SUBVERSIVE JUAN LUNA AND JOSÉ RIZAL by LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL I f there was one man who seemed to be destined for greatness in 1882, it was not José Rizal who would spring to mind between the two. It would have been rightly Juan Luna who seemed to have been favored by both fate and circumstance. Discharged from the Manila Academy of Art under tantalizingly unknown circumstances in 1876, Luna was nevertheless taken under the wing of the gentle but skillful teacher Lorenzo Guerrero. It was Guerrero who convinced his parents to allow the young Juan Luna to accept a government grant and propelled him to set sail for Madrid to continue his artistic education. By 1877, he was enrolled in the Royal Academy of San Fernando and with the impetuousness and ambition that would distinguish his life, Luna would decide to move to Rome the very next year with a new mentor, Don Alejo Vera who he had convinced to take him along as his manchador or painting assistant. Don Alejo would eventually return to Madrid and leave Luna to “shift for himself”; but it was not long before Luna had found a room in an artists’ colony on the Via Margutta, where he would fall into the company of the Benlliure brothers, also students from Spain. In 1881, he would complete “The Death of Cleopatra” which was exhibited in the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid and which received a silver medal. (Late last year, it took its rightful place on display at the Prado, the national museum of Spain.) The ‘Cleopatra’ would set Juan Luna firmly on the course of an upward trajectory and it was the fertile period in Rome to thank for that. His fellow pensionados, Miguel Zaragoza and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, would both soon arrive in Rome in 1882 to spend their scholarship’s last year in the Italian capital. They would be accompanied by the flamboyant Pedro Paterno, who unlike the starving artists was a certified heir to millions back in Manila. They would all drink in the exotic, electric atmosphere of the Italian capital and its obsession with the voluptuous mysteries of the Orient that is expressed in the painting ‘Odalisca’ or ‘Odalisque.’ It was in this year that he would paint a beauty from the sultan’s harem serenaded by an African servant. It’s a heady depiction of a favorite European trope of the East: a pale beauty lounges provocatively on the overstuffed velvet cushions of an ornate couch. Her head and arms are thinly veiled, her wrists weighed down with gold bracelets. There is a flash of pink flesh revealed by a half-open singlet. A richly dressed Nubian seems to be almost leering, obviously enthralled. The painting would situate Luna squarely in the cusp of his own destiny, for Zaragoza, who would win a fresh grant to stay two more years, would report that in the next months, Luna would be working mysteriously on “a huge canvas.” That would certainly be none other than the landmark ‘Spoliarium’ which would bring Luna — and the Philippines — for the first time to international renown — by winning the first of the gold medals at the Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes of 1884 in Madrid. It would take the capital by storm and would become the most talked about painting for the next two years. Jose Rizal, a student of medicine at the time but already recognized as one of the most eloquent of the Filipino ilustrados, would toast his achievement at a dinner organized by Pedro Paterno. It was a time ready for change — Rizal would complete and publish his first novel Noli Me Tangere in 1887, a work that would alter the course of Filipino history — and Rizal’s own destiny. By writing this searing commentary, he would create powerful enemies in the Catholic church who would eventually engineer his exile to Dapitan. (Was his exile and subsequently imposed silence a trade-off for the freedom of his family?) The letters presented in this same auction — that record his last few months on earth — give us an insight into not merely the fate of this hero but also the impending battle for the Filipino soul. LUNA IN ROME THE AGE OF ‘CLEOPATRA’, THE ‘SPOLIARIUM’, AND THE ‘ODALISQUE” by LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL Rome would prove to be the most fertile ground for Luna’s successes in the Madrid salons. It would produce the ‘Death of Cleopatra’ and the ‘Spoliarium’ that would book-end his career in Spain. Juan Luna would arrive in Rome under the tutelage of the Spanish painting master Don Alejo Vera in 1878 and work with him till 1881 on his various commissions. After Alejo’s return to Madrid, Luna would next move into a warren of some 40 artist studios on the Via Margutta, peopled by other pensionados of the Spanish Academy in Rome. He would share his living quarters and studio with the Benlliure who would become famous artists in their own right. (Mariano Benlliure’s bust of Arthur Ferguson, a high-ranking colonial official under the American regime, now shares the same hall where Luna’s Spoliairium is displayed.) Carlos da Silva, executive director of the Juan Luna Centennial, would detail some of the paintings from this period — including those in watercolor, a medium in which Luna would have acute mastery, making them appear almost undistinguishable from his oil works. In 1880 to 1881, Luna created several pieces, including the ‘Death of Cleopatra’ which was “presented, entered, and exhibited” at the Exposicion General de las Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1881. It would, says da Silva, be awarded a ‘Silver Medal (2nd Class)’ and was subsequently purchased by the Spanish government. Luna would begin work on what Miguel Zaragoza, a comrade-in-arms and fellow pensionado, would describe as “a huge canvas.” That would almost certainly be the“Spoliarium” on which he toiled, beginning in 1883. This masterpiece would receive a Gold Medal (1st Class) at the extremely important Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid, a kind of Olympics but in the fine arts, in 1884. Odalisca’ or ‘Odalisque’ — which was painted in between both works in 1882 — is a secret look at the Juan Luna dressed like a Roman emperor with fellow ilustrados, Pedro Paterno and his brother are seated in the foreground. THE ASIAN CULTURAL COUNCIL AUCTION 2022 9 0 most closely guarded inner sanctum of the sultan’s palace — the harem. It would be a European obsession with the mysteries of the Orient, its unimaginable wealth, beauties held in captivity, and intoxicating decadence; and it is plain that Luna became enamored of it himself while steeped in the legendary capital of the caesars. The word ‘harem’ itself means both the forbidden and the sacred and refers to the living quarters of the pasha’s women, his wives and daughters but also his concubines and female slaves. Only eunuchs (or men who had been castrated) were the only males allowed to serve; and they did so, following a strict color line. White eunuchs were permitted outside the palace; but only black eunuchs had access to the harem, the most private area of the seraglio. In Luna’s ‘Odalisca’ he is depicted as a minstrel serenading one of the sultan’s mistresses as she falls smiling into sleep’s embrace. The carefully guarded creatures of the harem were also delicately pampered, as glimpsed in the opulent furnishings of the room that Luna has painted: There are stately columns and intricately tiled walls. It appears to be a terrace that overlooks a lush garden. There are brass decorations (including a Moroccan filigree lamp) and rich carpets. The ‘Odalisca’ lounges provocatively on a long chaise, dressed in silk and velvet. She strikes a pose that Luna would repeat in various portraits of the wanton woman, including the work of 1885, famous for being in the Don Luis Araneta collection. This tantalizing masterpiece completes Luna’s dreams of the Orient with this heady triumvirate of ‘Cleopatra’, Spoliarium’ and the ‘Odalisca” — which may even have been the first of its name. It is certainly a record of an age that would make Juan Luna rightly famous and put the Philippines and Filipinos as the equal if not better than anyone on the world stage.