Spoliarium (take note of the two i's) is the most famous work of art of Juan Luna. It was said that when he visited Rome, Italy, he was exposed to the Renaissance painters and got to visit the Colloseum, where he saw for himself the spoliarium, a dark place under the Colloseum where dead gladiators were dumped. And maybe that was where he got the inspiration to tell the story of the struggle of a people, liking it to the inhuman disregard of gladiators' corpses just because the Romans had no use for them anymore as dead gladiators could no longer entertain. Remember what Russell Crowe shouted to the crowd in his movie 'Gladiator'? He shouted, "Are you not entertained?!"
(He signed "LUNA ROMA MDCCCLXXXIV"
at the painting's lower right corner)
(Characters in the painting seem
to be arguing who gets the
possessions left on the corpses)
The Spoliarium's dimensions are 4.22 meters by 7.675 meters. It's 13.8 feet tall and 25.18 feet wide; it's not your ordinary art exhibit painting. Juan Luna's main purpose was to make sure everyone got his message. I figured if he wanted to get his message across, the painting had to be massive. And his message? Somewhere out there was a race of people being used to entertain and satisfy those in authority, and being inhumanly trashed away after they became useless.
(Dead gladiators being dragged away)
One doesn't have to be an art expert in order to understand the Spoliarium. Seeing it in person for the first time, I was intimidated by its size and its colors, and the scene is really thought-provoking with a lot of characters comprising the whole tableau. This painting is a significant part of Philippine history, and I only used to read about it in history books as a kid.
(A useless gladiator being dragged)
Darkness and shadows dominate the painting; it's a cruel scene of carnage and inhumanity. During the Roman times, gladiators were merely slaves, whose lives they didn't actually own. They were in the arena to serve and entertain, and if they survived the bloody combat, they were rewarded with freedom, even if at the cost of a limb, an eye, or a pool of blood.
At that time, during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, it would have been easier to understand the painful colors of the painting and the enormity of the masterpiece. But this day, in a different time, one can only stand in front of the Spoliarium in awe and reverence for this priceless part of Philippine history, a painting of the revolution.
(A grieving woman, sitting on the bloody ground as a sign of hopelessness and absolute resignation. Who could this figure be?)
* * * * *
And while visiting the most treasured painting at the National Museum was a trip back to a period in Philippine history, writing this piece about the Spoliarium was even more fun. It's just too bad the painter is no longer around to explain to us all the characters, including those painted in the dark, and the colors of his masterpiece.
Thanks to my friend Fay for the treat at the Museum, and even more thankful to Juan Luna, who gave us a work of art to talk and write about 131 years after he signed off on it.
(Characters resembling vultures preying
on the dead. Who do they represent?)
(Up close and immortal: He fought for his freedom and he's now immortalized)
If you have the chance, do visit the Spoliarium at the National Museum of the Philippines at Padre Burgos Drive in Manila.
(Standing in awe and reverence
in front of the Spoliarium)