My favorites at the National Museum

I’ve been living in Manila for all my life, a good 27 years of it, and it was just last February that I got to go to our National Museum. I have no idea why when after our visit I thought it would be good to go there at least once a year.

We went there on Pao’s birthday weekend. We actually went to 2 museums that Saturday on pure whim-of-the-moment decisions, this and The Dessert Museum which I blogged about here. Although he’s been wanting to go to both for a while. It was particularly hot that day so we left halfway through the afternoon to avoid the sun’s peak hours. We arrived at the National Museum of Fine Arts at around 3:00 in the afternoon. If the weather were any better I would have pushed to head there earlier so we can visit other branches like the Planetarium. If you’re wondering about the difference between the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Art Gallery (because I did), based on my quick research, there isn’t any. The latter is just the museum’s former name.

I like how being in a museum feels good for the soul. I especially like viewing and learning about really, really old pieces. Those pieces have a way of making me imagine how years ago, that piece belonged to somebody, was touched by someone who maybe lived a life similar to mine or people I know. My mind goes to think about that person having a day that was particularly hot too or if that person was drinking a glass of sweet tea while hearing honking of trains nearby. Do you know the show Bayani? Something to that extent but with better visuals since well, this is my head after all. No need to work on effects hehe.

There are plenty of good pieces at the National Museum, but let me share to you my top 5 favorites, in no particular order (parang beauty pageant lang). Note, I don’t intent to be educative about the pieces so if it interests you and I hope it does, feel free to research more about it because you get to read some things that will get you hooked to knowing more. Another note, I actually wished that we had joined some form of tour while we were there. It would have been so much better if someone knowledgeable joined us to share information as we went along. So this is one of my goals next time!

Spoliarium The National Museum
Spolarium by Juan Luna

Number 1 is the Spoliarium. Which I found out just now is spelled as Spoliarium and not Spolarium as it is commonly mispelled. I also used to think it was called “The Spoliarium” but lose the “the”. The thing is MASSIVE! I truly believe it would be hard for one to walk out of the room without being impressed just by its sheer size. It’s this 4 by 7 meters giant of a work which had me wondering about the number of strokes Juan Luna had to put down on the canvas to complete it. I think it was a whole lot of work and to assume the dedication given to it makes it one of my favorites.

Bust of Jaime and Sofia De Veyra by Guillermo Tolentino

Number 2 is the Bust of Jaime and Sofia De Veyra by Guillermo Tolentino and honestly I liked it because it was cute and made me think of the hashtag #couplegoals haha! In a deeper sense, isn’t it fascinating that through many concepts that have emerged in our lifetime, and those before ours, that love has existed and withstood the test of time? I researched a bit about Sofia De Veyra having not known her at all before seeing this work and learned she’s known to be a feminist – not that I identify to be one. I’m actually not a fan of the term. But what I read the most that I really liked was how she always wore the terno, our national Filipino costume for women, to events in the United States. I told Pao, we should commission someone to make a bust of us in the future. We’re already thinking about being painted too! Haha!

Number 3 is something that I did not take a picture of because I was uncomfortable to do so. It is the Portrait of a Lady by Juan Luna. I’ve read about it a few months back and was struck and admittedly scared about the history behind it. Haha I’m uncomfortable writing about it too so let me share this article to you instead. Before I let fear take over while I type which it shouldn’t hehe, I want to write that it’s one of my favorites because it’s a perfect example of what I was talking above about how my mind tends to imagine people involved in the making of the artwork. I think of what dresses the lady in the portrait could have worn or even her makeup – were they on top of a dresser?, were they in tin pots?, and even how the dresser is most likely made of sturdy wood. I’d think of cobblestone streets and so on. And truthfully, I’d think of more disturbing and sad things after having read the article. I like where my mind wanders while viewing it, and how I reel it back in when I’m finding it too eerie.

Interior d’Un Cafi by Juan Luna

Number 4, which I found interesting to note, is another piece done by Luna. 3 out of 5 on this list! It’s called Interior d’un Cafi or The Parisian Life. I like it for the same reasons I like Portrait of a Lady, but with a much lighter feel to it. What drew me to like this piece was that it’s the main artwork inside a relatively spacious white room. The museum itself made it’s interior to focus on the artwork; to call eyes to it. Which leads me to ask why? Which is why I wished I was in a tour haha! So I can ask things like this! Juan Luna had a very intriguing life and by intriguing it was bordering shocking for me when I read about his marriage. Some write that this painting was done in a playful and relaxed tone which does not give clairvoyance into the succeeding years of the artist. But mind you, this painting has its own rich, underlying representation with the woman symbolizing the Philippines and the 3 gentlemen in the corner being Luna, Jose Rizal, and Ariston Bautista Lin. Men who are heroes and patriots in my country’s history. I prefer taking the painting on the surface, and letting my mind go about it on a non-scandalous musing, with the lady possibly wanting alone time and getting that in the cafe over a cheese roll or something. Even if the painting clearly depicts beer. If so, why not? Haha!


Number 5. My last in my list of favorites in the National Museum is not an artwork per say but a location within the museum. It’s the Old Senate Session Hall and it’s this huge space which can be some form of a breather after taking in several pieces. It had high ceilings, with it’s first half of the floor bordered with artwork. The place was actually designed to be a library in the early 1900s and a part of me is wishing it pushed through or that we at least have some magnificent library somewhere. Apart from this hall there were many other spaces in the museum that were beautiful. Like the spiral stairs in my featured image. I’m sure others had phrased this before me and not just pertaining to this museum but other establishments as well, but the place is an artwork of its own.

I started this article thinking I’d be writing just a short post about my first visit but I think I enjoyed it too much to keep things brief haha! Visiting the museum was a valuable way to spend our time and I’m already looking forward to when we can drop by next. Pao and I are especially excited for the opening of the National Museum of Natural History. The pictures have been doing a good job of enticing people to go come May. I really wish we would have more establishments like this. This and parks. May you get to go here soon! No excuses since it’s currently free of charge so go!!!


Gemma May

The National Museum of Fine Arts
Padre Burgos Avenue, Ermita, Manila
Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Fee: Currently none


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