Metro Manila

The Spoliarium at the National Museum

By on March 11, 2010

LM and Brennan with the Spoliarium
The Spoliarium, Juan Luna’s magnum opus, won the gold medal during the 1884 Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes (Exposition of Fine Arts) in Madrid. It depicts a typical scene in a chamber of a Roman arena: men dragging defeated gladiators, onlookers watching the bloody spectacle, and a woman grieving on one side. Perhaps Mr. Luna saw the striking parallel between the plight of these lifeless gladiators and those of the oppressed Filipinos during his time. It is said that Jose P. Rizal, still a student back then, understood very well the message conveyed in the painting. In one post-celebration of Luna’s and Felix Ressurreccion Hidalgo’s double victory (Hidalgo won the 9th silver medal for his “Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas Al Populacho”), Rizal boldly declared the end of the colonial patriarchy. We know now what Rizal did a few years later: published two controversial novels, founded a civic organization, and returned to the Philippines afterwards. He was later executed in December 30, 1986.

The 400 cm x 700 cm painting is now among the many attractions inside the National Gallery of Art of the National Museum. It was donated by President Francisco Franco in 1954 during President Elpidio Quirino’s state visit to Spain. It is not true that the Spanish language was included in the Philippine college curriculum in exchange for the Spanish president’s kind gesture. The painting was cut vertically in two sections before it was rolled up and then transported by ship to Manila. It has since occupied an entire wall of the National Museum’s main gallery where one can view the works of Ang Kiukok, Vicente Manansala, Jose Joya, and other National Artists as well.

I was fortunate to finally see the Spoliarium, thanks to a college friend who made an itinerary that almost shied away from the usual shopping malls. Before leaving the museum, I stood in the middle of the main hall for a few minutes to see the painting in its entirety. At the back of my mind, I knew that this could be my last opportunity to visit the structure that can also be found at the back of the Php 50.00 bill.

Php50 specimen money

Cameras are not allowed inside the museum but the exception is granted to those who are part of Mr. John Silva’s tour. This is also with the condition that no flash is used. We noticed two ladies with Nikon DSLR cameras in the hall at that time. They were part of the museum tour during that day. I summoned all the courage in the world to approach these two strangers and then audaciously requested that they take a photo of us with the painting. They probably understood my weird yet very important request. It is like being trapped in an elevator with Angelina Jolie and by the most unfortunate circumstance, you do not have any civilized means of preserving that memory (a pen and paper for an autograph or even your VGA camera phone for a very pixelated photo) for your future grandchildren. I gave one of them my email address and a few days later, she sent me a copy of our photos. How we got our Spoliarium photo can now be safely told.

I remember that my Grade 2 history teacher asked some of us in class to re-enact the Spoliarium in front of our classmates. The reason perhaps was to magnify the black and white photo in our textbook. I was given the part of the guy in the middle, wearing red and raising his left arm. I would say now that despite the noble intention, our best attempt in recreating the painting could not capture the beauty and the depth of Luna’s masterpiece. And despite the fact that the photograph above is now on our Facebook pages, the Spoliarium is best experienced rather than photographed.

When you get the chance to be in Manila, you may want to include the National Museum (instead of the Mall of Asia) in your future itineraries. For just a few hundred pesos, you would be treated to a unique visual feast and perhaps in the process, realize how rich the Filipino culture has always been.

at the National Museum

I must thank Ms. M. Rosales for taking our picture, Mr. John Silva for answering the questions in my email and Mr. LM Plaza for dragging me to see the National Museum. This post would not have been possible without their contributions.

The National Art Gallery of the National Museum is located at P. Burgos corner Finance Roadin Manila, Philippines. March tour dates are shown here. For future schedules and other queries, please contact Mr. John Silva through his blog or his email.

  1. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    when t hell were u here? Are u here still? Iv been there once during my undrgrad hist class but i want to go back! And realy luk at it! Join me sa ayala museum!? Email me!- k.r.

  2. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    hello bongsky…wow..i never thought that u could appreciate such masterpiece…hmmm..should i say ur patriotic?
    I appreciated the masterpiece too..i hope and i wish I could go there and experience hat u 'd experienced…

  3. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    ting, it was a brief weekend. We were just there to send Brinee off. But I'd notify everyone if I would be in your 'saturated' town again.

  4. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    "I never thought that u could appreciate such masterpiece"

    I'm surprised myself. 🙂

  5. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    It's good that you took the chance to visit the museum, too. Your story about how you secured a photo with the Spoliarium is remarkable. =)

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  6. Reply


    March 11, 2010

    I like this Bren, especially that part when you had your photo taken. I actually envy this. 🙂

  7. Reply


    March 12, 2010

    witsandnuts Thank you for visiting my blog as well.

    I enjoy by the way your stories and photos of Dubai.

  8. Reply


    March 12, 2010

    kim, sometimes we just have to lose some of our inhibitions (with social graces still intact of course) for things that are worth fighting for. and that moment inside the museum was one of those split-second decisions I made this year. "I have to this or regret for the rest of my life not being brave enough in the attempt."

    wheew. 🙂

  9. Reply


    March 13, 2010

    Hahaha! I was amused when you compared your circumstance in the museum to being trapped with Angelina Jolie in an elevator and all. You're a great writer, Bren. -ate D

  10. Reply


    March 14, 2010

    It takes a good taste and a pair of great eyes to see great things. This latest blog you wrote showcases the diversity of your interests. You render great value on things ordinary people oftentimes ignore. The variety of themes you tackle in your writings (e.g. Injustice on Harrington Rod; Travel Adventures on Mayon; now, Art on Spolarium) makes your blog site a favorite to your avid followers.

    Keep writing. Amateur writers like me could use your help one of these days to set up a successful site.

    Can Mike really write? Check out:

  11. Reply


    March 15, 2010

    Ate D!
    Thank you for the kind words and for dropping by my small-time blog. 🙂

  12. Reply


    March 15, 2010

    Thank you for the embarrassing compliment. 😉

    write on bro.

  13. Reply


    March 16, 2010

    Hehehe.. This is both insightful and funny, in that order. The "rich Filipino culture" is very touching. Hmm… 🙂

  14. Reply


    March 16, 2010

    baktin, there was no effort in dragging you to see the museum… hehehe… you're "draggable"…

    nice info that the Spanish language was not enforced in Philippine colleges in exchange of the painting… the curator from GSIS said that to my cousin. 😀

    hope we can visit more museums… when you have a chance to visit Manila again…

  15. Reply

    Random Student

    March 16, 2010

    good point dude. time to put some culture in our sched. and the digital image story is a good anecdote. this post reminded me of my on-the-spot painting club nung elementary days ko.

  16. Reply


    March 17, 2010

    anonymous # 2,
    welcome to my blog!

  17. Reply


    March 17, 2010

    LM, You are heavier now, so i think that makes me 'draggable' in that respect. 🙂

    tell your cousin's GSIS-someone-someone that he is wrong.

    until then.

  18. Reply


    March 17, 2010

    random student, welcome to Baktin Corporation! 🙂

    I painted something back in my elementary days. (re: It would be probably worth millions now if it is auctioned in Mars. Oh well.

    What was your story?

  19. Reply


    March 17, 2010

    Wow. You were able to take a picture at the Spolarium. I tried once but was told that its not allowed inside the museum. Tsk tsk. Nice!!

  20. Reply

    worthy thoughts of pandesal

    March 18, 2010

    Visiting the National Museum was actually my greatest wish when i was still in grade school. The reason maybe was 'curiosity.' And, unfortunately, until now, I'm still hoping (not wishing though) to visit the said museum before i leave the country this year, lord-willing.

    You're indeed lucky to have experienced the delight inside the National Art Gallery of the Philippines.

    blog on. :0)

  21. Reply


    March 18, 2010

    Welcome to Baktin Corporation. The best chances of you getting a picture of the Spoliarium is to join Mr. John Silva's guided tours. He is the museum's senior consultant. The March schedules are posted in this blogpost too.

  22. Reply


    March 18, 2010

    Welcome to Baktin Corp. You may visit perhaps the museum in your future stopover in Manila. I believe that it is indeed an itinerary that must be in every Filipino's bucket list.

  23. Reply


    March 21, 2010

    Weee! Nice one Bren! The museum can be an excellent feast of history for sure! Would be great for me (I studied history more than anything else back in high school. Ha ha!)

    Striking storytelling Bren! 🙂

  24. Reply


    April 21, 2010

    Thanks Joemill. There are also a few good museums in Cebu. Or you may have visited all of them already?

  25. Reply


    December 4, 2010

    bren, i'll tell you what. entrance to the national museum is free every sundays (this has been the case since… well, we were there last december 2008, and there was already free entrance during sundays back then. anyway, we went last sunday, 28th of november). the main building (where the spoliarium is) is currently under renovation but still open for viewing — they allow cameras and picture taking without flash (but did not allow my dslr; we brought in my backup point and shoot instead) — so yes, we had the opportunity to have our pic taken with the spoliarium. for a good while, my friend from HS, yoni and i had the luna and hidalgo hall all to ourselves. 😀

  26. Reply


    December 9, 2010

    val, when you had the hall to yourselves, did you have the feeling that the paintings sprang to life (not in an eerie kind of way)?

  27. Reply


    May 22, 2013

    Went to see the Spolarium a few years back and again just this weekend 🙂 Copy and paste lang ni nako imong blogpost hehehe

    • Reply


      May 22, 2013

      No problemo! 🙂 Sayon ra magpicture2 karon as they already allow cameras inside the museum.

      I have seen the Spoliarium many times since this blog entry. But it still leaves me in awe every single time.

  28. Reply

    Pinoy Adventurista

    November 7, 2013

    I was in Grade School when I last visited the National Museum, Dapat maka visit ulit ako… 🙂

    • Reply

      brennan mercado

      November 7, 2013

      Hi Mervs. Welcome to Baktin Corporation!
      Yes, visit ka na ulit. Maraming bagong galleries and libre yata basta Sunday. 🙂


Brennan Mercado
The Philippines

Brennan is an electronics engineer by profession. From time to time, he gets to travel beyond his office cubicle, try new restaurants or catch up with his terribly long list of unread books. He likes museums, spicy food and talking with habal-habal drivers. For now, he's still deciding on whether to play Pokémon GO or not.

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