Spoliarium Painting Description Essay

The Spoliarium (often misspelled Spolarium) is a painting by Filipino painter Juan Luna. The painting was submitted by Luna to the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid, where it garnered the first gold medal (out of three).[1] In 1886, it was sold to the Diputación Provincial de Barcelona for 20,000 pesetas. It currently hangs in the main gallery at the ground floor of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila, and is the first work of art that greets visitors upon entry into the museum. The picture recreates a despoiling scene in a Roman circus where dead gladiators are stripped of weapons and garments.

Luna, working on canvas, spent eight months completing the painting which depicts dying gladiators. Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo writes, "...the fact remains that when Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo won the top awards in the Madrid Exposition of 1884, they proved to the world that indios could, despite their supposed barbarian race, paint better than the Spaniards who colonized them."[2]

Jose Rizal and the Spoliarium[edit]

At a gathering of Filipino expatriates in Madrid, Jose Rizal enthusiastically toasted the triumphs his two compatriots had achieved, the other being Félix Hidalgo who won a silver medal, calling it "fresh proof of racial equality".[3]

"Luna's Spoliarium with its bloody carcasses of slave gladiators being dragged away from the arena where they had entertained their Roman oppressors with their lives... stripped to satisfy the lewd contempt of their Roman persecutors with their honor...." Rizal was footnoted in his speech that the Spoliarium, "embodied the essence of our social, moral and political life: humanity in severe ordeal, humanity unredeemed, reason and idealism in open struggle with prejudice, fanaticism and injustice."

Rizal was inspired to carve a mark of his own to give glory to his country by writing his 'Spoliarium' since early that year 1884 "he had been toying with the idea of a book" for he has seen and described the painting as "the tumult of the crowd, the shouts of slaves, the metallic clatter of dead men's armor, the sobs of orphans, the murmured prayers...." Rizal's book would be called Noli Me Tangere, "the Latin echo of the Spoliarium".

In popular culture[edit]

Ryan Cayabyab composed the opera Spoliarium, which chronicles the creation of the eponymous painting and Juan Luna's trial for the murder of his wife. Soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio wrote the libretto. A recorded version was released for commercial distribution in 2006.

Popular Filipino rock band Eraserheads released a single entitled Spolarium from their album Sticker Happy, penned by Ely Buendia.

The painting is also mentioned by the poet Ma. Luisa Aguilar Igloria in her collection, Juan Luna's Revolver, and by the novelist Miguel Syjuco in his novel Ilustrado.

In the 2015 historical film Heneral Luna, a scene where soldiers drag the mutilated corpses of Antonio Luna and Paco Roman while shocked onlookers watch from a staircase closely mirrors the Spoliarium. Antonio Luna is the younger brother of Juan Luna.


External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Spoliarium.
Spoliarium as displayed in the National Museum of the Philippines

A tue work of art can often speak for itself and releases its true artistic meaning just by looking at it. The Spoliarium,  which is often misspelled as ‘Spolarium’ truly exceeds the given definition of art. The Spoliarium, which was painted by Juan Luna, is considered one of the most internationally renowned pieces of modern Filipino art. Luna submitted his painting to the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 which received a gold medal. Later on the year 1886, it was then sold to the Diputación Provincial de Barcelona for 20,000 pesetas. The Spoliarium, which is one of the Philippines pride, now hangs in the main gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines and is the first painting to greet museum visitors.

The gigantic painting which measures four meters in height and seven meters in length is colored mostly in shades of black, red, and brown. These colors really brought out the ethnicity and realism of the portrait which helped me feel the emotions more of what’s been happening that time. The Spoliarium, which is the Coliseum’s chamber where dead bodies of gladiators are being disposed, is where Luna got his inspiration for this artwork. This depicts bodies of dead gladiators being dragged from a Roman arena which is being viewed by spectators on the left side of the painting. Gladiators (Latin: gladiator, “swordsman”, from gladius, “sword”) are armed combatants who entertains an audience in a Roman Arena Colosseum by battling with other gladiators, wild animals, or criminals. These battles are usually fights to the death of one participant which instantly determine the winner. Spectators on the other hand, are the ones who manipulate the games by observing and determining who abides the law or rules of the battle. If you take a look at the right most side of the painting, you’d find a woman whose back is turned in front of us. What the painting presents is the atrocious and vile behavior of Romans which led to countless amount of widows that are left alone. Due to the crowd’s positive feedback and reactions, gladiatorial fights aren’t even forbidden but are even more utilized.

The Spoliarium represents various emotions being portrayed especially during that period wherein people are too brutal and vicious to value the importance of life and how huge an impact it leaves to a lot of people and this is being presented by the woman in the portrait. The dragging of the body of the gladiator shows how useless they find one’s life is which is why they exploit it more often just for the entertainment of the Romans.

Alas, scenarios like this in our time today has been happening in various ways. Maltreatment and torments are still present which have been increasing in numbers; even fighting never left human desire whether we admit it of not. It has been planted within every human being that fighting is naturally present in our blood and history proves itself and the present.

No author (n.d.) Spoliarium. Juggle. Retrieved November 09, 2011. From http://www.juggle.com/spoliarium

No author (n.d.) Spoliarium. Wikipedia. Retrieved Novermber 09, 2011. From http://tl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoliarium

No author (n.d.) Spoliarium Painting by Juan Luna. Tagalog Lang. Retrieved November 09, 2011. From http://tagaloglang.com/The-Philippines/Filipino-Art/spolarium-painting-by-juan-luna.html

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