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Spoliarium of Juan Luna displayed at Philippine National Museum of Fine Arts.jpg
Spoliarium displayed at the Philippine National Museum of Fine Arts.
ArtistJuan Luna
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions4.22 m × 7.675 m (13.8 ft × 25.18 ft)
LocationNational Museum of Fine Arts, Manila
Spoliarium as displayed in the National Museum of the Philippines.

The Spoliarium (often misspelled Spolarium) is a painting by Filipino painter Juan Luna. Luna, working on canvas, spent eight months completing the painting which depicts dying gladiators. 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] The picture recreates a despoiling scene in a Roman circus where dead gladiators are stripped of weapons and garments. Together with other works of the Spanish Academy, the Spoliarium was on exhibit in Rome in April 1884.[2]

In 1886, the painting was sold to the Diputación Provincial de Barcelona for 20,000 pesetas. It currently hangs in the main gallery at the first 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 National Museum considers it the largest painting in the Philippines with dimensions of 4.22 meters x 7.675 meters.[3]

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."[4]

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".[5]

"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...."[6] 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."[6]

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".[7]

Return to the Philippines[edit]

In 1885, the painting was bought (while still in Paris) by the provincial government of Barcelona (Diputación Provincial de Barcelona) for 20,000 pesetas, after being exhibited in Rome, Madrid, and Paris. It was transferred to the Museo del Arte Moderno in Barcelona in 1887, where it was in storage until the museum was burned and looted during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Under orders of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the damaged painting was sent to Madrid for restoration, where it stayed for 18 years. The calls for the painting's transfer to Manila by Filipinos and sympathetic Spaniards in the 1950s led to Gen. Franco's orders to finish the painting's restoration and eventual donation to the Philippines. The painting was turned over to Ambassador Nieto in January 1958 after the restoration work done in late 1957.[8]

The Spoliarium was sent to the Philippines in 1958 as a gift from the government of Spain under orders of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.[9][10] It was broken up into three pieces, with each piece going into its own shipping crate, because of its size. The painting was mounted on a wooden frame at the then Department of Foreign Affairs building (current-day Department of Justice building as of June 2020) on Padre Faura Street. Artist Antonio Dumlao[11] was chosen by Carlos da Silva, as head of the Juan Luna Centennial Commission,[12] to perform relining and cleaning of the painting. The mounting, framing, and architectural work was done by Carlos da Silva. A newly restored Spoliarium was then unveiled in the Hall of Flags of the Department of Foreign Affairs in December 1962.[13]

The painting was cleaned by Suzanno "Jun" Gonzalez in 1982. In 2005, another restoration was made by Art Restoration and Conservations Specialists Inc., headed by painter June Poticar Dalisay.[14]


  1. ^ Gaceta de Madrid, no. 164, 12/06/1884, p. 694
  2. ^ Ambeth Ocampo on the Spoliarium in April 1884
  3. ^ Spoliarium 1958 by National Museum of the Philippines
  4. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (2000). Rizal Without the Overcoat. Anvil Publishing.
  5. ^ Guerrero, Leon (1974). The First Filipino: A Biography of José Rizal (PDF) (5th ed.). Manila: National Historical Commission. p. 112. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  6. ^ a b Guerrero 1974, p. 114.
  7. ^ Guerrero 1974, p. 119-120, 122.
  8. ^ Restoring the ‘Spoliarium’ by Butch Dalisay
  9. ^ ``War of ‘Spoliarium’ ‘bocetos’ livens up auction scene by Dexter Matilla, Lito B. Zulueta
  10. ^ Spoliarium 1958 by National Museum of the Philippines
  11. ^ Spoliarium 1958 by National Museum of the Philippines
  12. ^ ``War of ‘Spoliarium’ ‘bocetos’ livens up auction scene by Dexter Matilla, Lito B. Zulueta
  13. ^ Restoring the ‘Spoliarium’ by Butch Dalisay
  14. ^ Restoring the ‘Spoliarium’ by Butch Dalisay

External links[edit]