Juan Novicio Luna
October 25, 1857[a]
|December 7, 1899 (aged 42)
|Painting, drawing, sculpting
|Academic Art ; Romanticism, Neoclassicism, Realism,
|Antonio Luna (brother)
Joaquin Luna (brother)
Juan Luna de San Pedro y Novicio Ancheta (Spanish: [ˈxwan ˈluna], Tagalog: [hwɐn ˈluna]; October 25, 1857 – December 7, 1899) was a Filipino painter, sculptor and a political activist of the Philippine Revolution during the late 19th century. He became one of the first recognized Philippine artists.
His winning of the gold medal in the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, along with the silver win of fellow Filipino painter Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, prompted a celebration which was a significant highlight in the memoirs of members of the Propaganda Movement, with the fellow Ilustrados toasting the two painters' good health and the brotherhood between Spain and the Philippines.
Well regarded for work done in the manner of European academies of his time, Luna painted literary and historical scenes, some with an underscore of political commentary. His allegorical works were inspired by classical balance, and often showed figures in theatrical poses.
Born in the town of Badoc, Ilocos Norte in the northern Philippines, Luna was the third among the seven children of Joaquín Luna de San Pedro y Posadas and Laureana Novicio y Ancheta. In 1861, the Luna family moved to Manila, and he went to the Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree. He excelled in painting and drawing and was influenced by his brother, Manuel N. Luna, who, according to Filipino patriot José Rizal, was a better painter than Juan himself.
Luna enrolled at the Escuela Nautica de Manila (now Philippine Merchant Marine Academy) and became a sailor. He took drawing lessons under the illustrious painting teacher Lorenzo Guerrero of Ermita, Manila. He also enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts (Academia de Dibujo y Pintura) in Manila where he was influenced and taught how to draw by the Spanish artist Agustin Saez. Unfortunately, Luna's vigorous brush strokes displeased his teacher and Luna was discharged from the academy. However, Guerrero was impressed by his skill and urged Luna to travel to Madrid to further pursue his work.
In 1875 Manuel and Juan Luna travelled to Europe, where Manuel studied music and Juan painting. Juan entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he befriended the painter Don Alejo Vera. Luna was unhappy with the style of teaching in the school and decided that it would be much better to work with Vera.
Vera brought him to Rome for some of his commissions, and Luna was exposed to the art of the Renaissance painters. It was in 1878 that his artistic talents were established with the opening of the first art exposition in Madrid, which was called the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Demonstration of Fine Arts). From then on, Luna became engrossed in painting and produced a collection of paintings that he exhibited at the 1881 Exposition.
In 1881, his La Muerte de Cleopatra won him a silver medal and came in second place. Luna's growing reputation as an artist led to a pensionado (pension) scholarship at 600 pesos annually through the Ayuntamiento of Manila. The condition was that he was obliged to develop a painting which captured the essence of Philippine history, which would then become the Ayuntamiento's property.
In 1883, Luna commenced work on the painting commissioned by the Ayuntamiento. By May 1884, he dispatched the expansive canvas portraying the Spoliarium to Madrid for the annual Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. Remarkably, he became the inaugural recipient of one of three gold medals bestowed at the exhibition, earning recognition from both connoisseurs and art critics in attendance. On June 25, 1884, a gathering of Filipino and Spanish nobles organized an event to celebrate Luna's triumph in the exhibition. During the event, Rizal prepared a speech lauding his friend, highlighting the two significant aspects of his artwork—the exaltation of genius and the magnificence of his artistic prowess.
Despite Luna's recognition and acclaim for his artistic achievements, he was unjustly denied the esteemed Medal of Honor due to racial prejudice against him as a colonial subject. Nevertheless, King Alfonso XII commissioned Luna to create La batalla de Lepanto (The Battle of Lepanto) for the halls of the Senate of Spain, intending for it to be displayed alongside Francisco Pradilla Ortiz's La rendicion de Granada (The Surrender of Granada), the grand prize-winning artwork from the 1878 competition. The king's intention was to provide compensation to Luna, who had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor with his renowned work, Spoliarium.
In 1885, Luna relocated to Paris, where he established his own studio and formed a friendship with Hidalgo. Honouring an agreement with the Manila City Council, he completed the artwork titled El pacto de sangre (The Blood Compact) a year later. This painting portrayed the blood compact ceremony between Datu Sikatuna, a prominent ruler from Bohol Island, and the Spanish governor-general Miguel López de Legazpi. The piece now graces the walls of the Malacañan Palace. This painting and a full-sized portrait of López de Legazpi were completed and returned to Manila in exchange for his scholarship.
At first, Luna was praised for his grandiose historical works of art in the Graeco-Roman fashion at prestigious European art salons that conformed to classical requirements. However, he became disenchanted with his representations of historical scenes, which he expressed in his writings to his fellow Philippine patriots and like-minded Spanish politicians. Contrary to the presumption of abandonment of academic tradition or a newly found appreciation for impressionism, Luna joined forces with the progressive factions within the Paris Salon.
By 1891, Luna shifted his focus towards creating realist artworks that portrayed the societal ills of his time. Influenced by his readings of economists Karl Marx and Émile Louis Victor de Laveleye, his works began to reflect these influences. In a letter addressed to Rizal, Luna openly embraced his personal affiliation with socialism. An excellent example of Luna's shift in artistic style can be seen in his work titled "Les Ignores". Painted between 1890 and 1891, the work portrays a winter funeral procession for an ordinary labourer, evident from the modest wooden coffin and the attire of the mourners, reflecting their humble status.
Luna's commitment to realist art persisted in his other notable works, such as The Parisian Life and series on the French Revolution, Peuple et Rois (People and Kings).
On December 4, 1886, Luna married María de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, a sister of his friends Félix and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. The couple traveled to Venice and Rome and settled in Paris. They had one son, whom they named Andrés, and a daughter, María de la Paz, nicknamed Bibi, who died when she was three years old. Luna was fond of his wife. However, the jealous Luna frequently accused Paz of having an affair with a certain Monsieur Dussaq. Finally in a fit of jealousy, he shot the door wherein his wife was behind, killing his wife and mother-in-law and wounding his brother-in-law Félix in the process, on September 22, 1892. He was arrested and murder charges were filed against him.
Luna was acquitted of the charges on February 8, 1893, on the grounds that it had been a crime of passion. Temporary insanity; the "unwritten law" at the time forgave men for killing unfaithful wives. He was ordered to pay the Pardo de Taveras a sum of 1,651 francs and eighty three cents, and an additional 25 francs for postage, in addition to the one franc of claims for damages ("dommages-intérêts"). Five days later, Luna went to Madrid with his brother, Antonio Luna, and his son, Andrés.
In 1894 Luna moved back to the Philippines and traveled to Japan in 1896, returning during the Philippine Revolution of the Cry of Balintawak. On September 16, 1896, he and his brother Antonio Luna were arrested by Spanish authorities for being involved with the Katipunan rebel army. Despite his imprisonment, Luna was still able to produce a work of art which he gave to a visiting priest. He was pardoned by the Spanish courts on May 27, 1897, and was released from prison and he traveled back to Spain in July.: 394 He returned to Manila in November 1898.: 394 In 1898, he was appointed by the executive board of the Philippine revolutionary government as a member of the Paris delegation which was working for the diplomatic recognition of the República Filipina (Philippine Republic). In 1899, upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898), Luna was named a member of the delegation to Washington, D.C. to press for the recognition of the Philippine government.
He traveled back to the Philippines in December 1899 upon hearing of the murder of his brother Antonio by the Kawit Battalion in Cabanatuan.
He traveled to Hong Kong and died there on December 7, 1899, from cardiac arrest. His remains were buried in Hong Kong and in 1920 were exhumed and kept in Andrés Luna's house, to be later transferred to a niche at the Crypt of San Agustin Church in the Philippines. Five years later, Juan would be reinstated as a world-renowned artist and Peuple et Rois, his last major work, was acclaimed as the best entry to the Saint Louis World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of his paintings were destroyed by fire in World War II.