Paintings for the Quincentennial

One of the paintings I inherited from my father-in-law, Don Jose Antonio Araneta, depicts the First Mass, but where it was held remains a controversial issue, now heading towards a full-blown legal battle between the contending sides. The date on this oil painting by F. Gonzalez is 1953, foreshadowing the commemoration of the 400 th year of Christianity and also this year’s Quincentennial. How exasperating that after five hundred years the official narrative remains unaltered and is still perpetuating the usual myths, for instance, that the natives were converted instantaneously and begged to be baptized.

Now we are arguing not only about the first Mass but also about Magellan’s agenda, did he come to conquer or to merely look for a supplier of spices? I will not take up in this article the entangled tapestry shrouding Lapu Lapu. I think the root of these controversies lies in our disregard of the Patronato Real, most of us have totally ignored it. Whether Magellan, his co-voyagers and their successors wanted to conquer these islands or not, whether they were looking for gold, spices or souls to save, they all had to operate within the framework of the Patronato Real.

A picture is worth a thousand words, says the old adage. Many aspects of the conquest and Christianization were explained at two painting exhibitions held at the National Museum of Fine Arts—HOCUS I and HOCUS II (Quadricula). HOCUS I comprised 26 paintings, opened on 18 April, catching the Lenten season and closed 26 October 2017, to end Museum month. The binding theme was the Patronato Real and its profound effect on Las Islas Filipinas or the Capitanía General de Filipinas, the official name of our country during the Spanish colonial era.

The Patronato Real (Royal Patronage) was based on a series of agreements between the Holy See and the Spanish monarchy from Ferdinand and Isabella to the dissolution of the empire in the 19 th century. The Holy See declared that the Spanish monarchy could conquer and possess territory in exchange for the Christianization and evangelization of the natives found within those lands. Once baptized, the natives automatically became subjects of the King and therefore had to pay tribute. By virtue of the Patronato Real, the Spanish monarchs accepted Church leaders (like archbishops and bishops) as advisers of the colonial governments who were to be consulted on all matters involving important policy decisions. The Church and State were one; the Sword and Cross conquered and Christianized.

That was clearly illustrated in the painting “The Treaty of Tordesillas” with Pope Alexander VI seated ceremoniously at the center, between Ferdinand and Isabela of Spain and the Portuguese King John II. On the lower part of the canvas, there were Spanish, Portuguese and native angels, all in battle regalia and fully armed, fighting over the territories divided by the Pope..

Another painting, “Símbolos del Poder” showed the Spanish coat of arms superimposed on Intramuros, the Ever-Loyal City and the churches of Panay, Zambales, Nueva Vizcaya, Cuyo, Misamis Occidental, Cagayan, Isabela, Paoay and Romblon strategically placed, emphasizing the role of the colonial government in the propagation of the Faith. It reserved a portion of its income for building these temples of worship. The hapless indio was caught in this powerful embrace of the Church and State.

Hocus II, or Quadrícula opened in the National Museum of Fine Arts in September 2019 and closed in March 2020, just before the pandemic! What could have happened had we waited for the Quincentennial to begin; those 40 paintings would still be in storage.

Although the HOCUS paintings are allegorical, these are founded on indisputable historical facts bolstered by documentary evidence. Atty. Saul Hofileña, Jr, the intellectual author, used factual events and characters to unveil “what has been hidden from us by religious fervor. The paintings tell our story as a people, why we are who we are…”

The HOCUS exhibitions was a wellspring of knowledge about life in the Philippines during the more than 300 years of Spanish colonization. Atty. Hofileña explained: “Each painting is a veritable chapter of our history, illustrating the spiritual conquests that resulted in religious obfuscation, the oppressive political, social and economic conditions that sparked resistance and revolution. “

I was honored to be invited to curate both exhibitions and was initially wary of how these would be received by the public. The parish priest of Naic, Cavite, was present during the Hocus I and Quadricula openings. During the duration of the exhibits, I spotted a group nuns, Daughters of Charity I think, taking photos of the paintings; there were also, priests and seminarians who commented in reverent whispers. To my surprise, a book published by the Claretian Order, MDXXI,500 Years Roman Catholic, (2020) by Jose Mario B. Maximiano featured two of the HOCUS I paintings.

Unfortunately, Atty. Hofileña decided to end the HOCUS project. He said the paintings are horribly time-consuming to create, conjuring those images (I call them visions) has afflicted him with mental fatigue. He has decided to go back to the written word and will continue writing about law ( his profession) and history. Already, he has published 8 law books and 2 on Philippine history. The good news is that before retiring HOCUS, he authored 24 more paintings that illustrate another conquest and Christianization by a totally different empire, the imperial United States of America. There is a catalogue raisonné ready for the printers, might there be an exhibit for a sesquicentennial?