A New Portrait of Lapulapu

Posted on 07 May 2020
By Eufemio O. Agbayani III

On the 499th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) released a new portrait of Lapulapu.

The painting was made by Bulacan artist Carlo Caacbay in a photo-realistic style – that is, a painting that almost resembles a photograph. It was released through the NHCP Museums Facebook page to join the virtual one-year countdown to the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines.

Lapulapu by Carlo Caacbay (2019).  Courtesy of the Historic Sites and Education Division of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines

Lapulapu’s portrait is part of a series of paintings commissioned by the NHCP for display in various public schools and government offices.  This is in response to Memorandum Circular No. 25, s. 2017 which instructs government offices to display portraits of illustrious historical figures in lieu of the usual portraits of incumbent government officials.

The portrait’s striking difference with early depictions of Lapulapu is the honoree’s aged appearance. The NHCP subscribed to the recent findings of historian Danilo Gerona about the possible age of Lapulapu. According to his book, Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines (2016), Gerona consulted the 1563 book of Portuguese historian Gaspar Correa titled Lendas da India.  The said publication claims Lapulapu was very old.  Gerona further said that Correa probably got the information from one of the survivors of the Magellan-Elcano expedition he interviewed.

In the new portrait, Lapulapu is shown wearing several tattoos, loosely patterned after an illustration to Visayan people in the ca. 1590 Boxer Codex. These tattoos were not merely decorative, as these indicate the bearer’s experiences, achievements and triumphs in battles and sea encounters. To signify his dignity as a warrior-leader, Lapulapu is shown holding a kampilan (a noted Visayan bladed weapon) and wearing a regal red vest and pants. He is also adorned with gold ornaments, also patterned after those illustrated in the Boxer Codex and excavated in various parts of the Philippines in the collections of the Ayala Museum and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Museum.

Behind him is a beach, depicting Mactan, the location of the fateful battle on 27 April 1521.

Through the photo-realistic portrait, the NHCP hopes to have helped Filipinos in visualizing early Philippine history that is grounded on historical, cultural, and archeological research.

The NHCP is the national government agency mandated to promote and preserve Philippine history and heritage through its administration of national shrines, museums, research and publication, conservation, and marking of historic sites and structures. It also serves as the Secretariat for the National Quincentennial Committee.


Eufemio O. Agbayani III is a Historic Sites Development Officer II of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

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