First to Depict the Battle of Mactan from the Filipino Wiewpoint
Posted on 23 October 2021
By Ian Christopher B. Alfonso
Today, 23 October 2021, the Filipino nation celebrates the 164th birth anniversary of master Juan Luna. He was the earliest known Filipino to depict the Battle of Mactan from the Filipino viewpoint.
On 8 November 1890, Luna wrote Jose Rizal, “I have made a sketch of the death of Magellan according to the description of Pigafetta.” The Ilokano genius regarded the episode as “a very important event in our history.” More than just a letter, the document teaches us something about the voice of history and impartiality, especially when Luna told Rizal that the latter wanted to give the artwork the title “Victory of Si Lapulapu and Flight of the Spaniards,” “as it should be.” Yet, Luna also regarded Ferdinand Magellan, who died in the said battle, as a “great man.” One must take note that Luna, before he became the master painter we know, was once a seafarer, and Magellan was an icon of maritime history whose expedition completed the first circumnavigation of the planet from 1519-1522.
In this particular exchange, Luna resolved to “give [the artwork] the title of ‘Death of Magellan.'” He was conscious that the voice of history favored Spain, as it implied “a tribute of admiration” for Magellan. But he was also aware of the consequence if he insisted on his Filipino-centric title over “Death of Magellan.” He wrote Rizal in jest, “the painter will be finished and the poor citizen will find himself against the wall.” Per Antonio Pigafetta, an eye witness of the Battle of Mactan and close to Magellan, Lapulapu “refused to obey the king of Spagnia.”
According to art historian Santiago Pilar, there was indeed a sketch by Luna on oil titled “Battle of Mactan.” Former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Jaime C. Laya said that this sketch was previously hanging on the study room of President Ferdinand Marcos in Malacañang. If this sketch is the same as what Luna wrote about, it appears he was not able to present it to the person to whom it was dedicated: Rizal (“l am dedicating this sketch to you if you like it”).
Know more about how our heroes in the 19th century nationalized Lapulapu here.
About the Author
Ian Christopher B. Alfonso is the Supervising History Researcher of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.