Juan Luna’s beloved son

Luna, Arquitecto is not exactly an art book, it is more of a secular decretum that distills social history; it is also a tender and inquisitive life story of a tortured soul whose creativity and technical virtuosity raised the bar of Philippine architecture.

The dedication page immediately jabs one’s curiosity— “In memory of the little boy in the picture.” There is a portrait of a male child on this page, with rosy cheeks and a girlish fringe, painted by Juan Luna. (It is now part of the National Museum of Fine Arts collection.) Yet, the picture alluded to is not Juan Luna’s but the cover of a French magazine, “Le Parisien”, autumn 1892 issue. It was probably made by the magazine’s illustrator based on the coroner’s report of the crime scene. It showed a mustachioed man standing by the door of a bathroom, in the act of shooting two helpless women in the presence of a little boy. (See page 119 of the book) The man was Juan Luna (looking more European than Asian) the women were his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera in a semi-recumbent position and his mother-in-law, Doña Juliana Gorricho de Pardo de Tavera, who lay dead near the bathtub.   A little boy, Andres aged 5, Juan Luna’s beloved son was the sole witness of that intolerably cruel scene.

Author Saul Hofileña, Jr. is a lawyer by profession; he teaches international law in San Beda College, was a dean of a law school and is currently a pre-bar reviewer. He has written books on international law, treaties, etc. Hofileña is also a historian, a sedulous researcher and with characteristic exactitude has written 3 best-selling history books (titles are listed in the inner flap of Luna, Arquitecto). Atty. Hofileña is also HOCUS, the intellectual author of two unique painting collections exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts in 2019 and 2020.  Hocus I and Quadrícula (Hocus II) depicted the pathos of colonization and Christianization of this archipelago by the Cross and Sword, underpinned by the Patronato Real.

We all know that Juan Luna, after winning first prize for his gigantic masterpiece, “Spoliarium”, at the Exposition Nacional de Bellas Artes in Spain in 1884, assiduously courted and married Paz Pardo de Tavera, sister of the famous intellectual and scientist, Dr. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, who was one of Juan Luna’s best friends. He and Jose Rizal would pose for Luna’s paintings. Trinidad was the model for Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Rizal for Rajah Sikatuna in that famous “Blood Compact” which now hangs in Malacañan. He asked Trinidad to drop a good word for him while he was courting Paz. However, her mother, Doña Juliana, would make snide remarks about artists not bringing enough food to the table. Juan and Paz were living with her in Villa Dupont in Paris. I can imagine how the proud Ilocano must have felt when his mother-in-law had to pay for the rent and the nanny of his two babies, Andres and  sister Bibi who died when she was only two.

Author Hofileña’s  shuddering thesis is that Juan Luna did not commit double murder because of a wholly aberrant impulse; it was not the volcanic jealousy of a cuckolded husband, nor was it “Malay rage “of an inferior savage race.  That was the core of his lawyer’s defense.  Hofileña affirms that the sequence of the murders was pre-meditated! I will say no more because those chapters are the most riveting parts of the book; I do not want to ruin it by hinting about the ending.

After reading Luna, Arquitecto, Supreme Court Justice Jose Catral Mendoza (of the Judicial Bar Council) praised Hofileña for unravelling the mystery of Juan Luna’s acquittal by using the French Code of 1810 and the Spanish Penal Code of 1887. Suffice it to say that in a flash of insight, Atty.  Hofileña shook the dust off his copies of the said codes  and used them  to analyze the depositions of the lawyers involved in Juan Luna’s case at the Seine Cour d’Assizes.  He also used 19th century statistics and presumptions.

Diligent in his pursuit of Andres Luna’s personal and professional lives, Hofileña ‘s book answers questions about what happened to the “little boy in the picture” after his mother was murdered by his own father before his very eyes. Who dried his tears and consoled him? What happened to Juan Luna and Andres when they returned to the Philippines in the midst of a Revolution? Andres wanted to be a painter like his father, in fact, he won a prize at an exposition in Hanoi. However, he also showed interest in architecture, so   Juan Luna advised his son,” better an architect than a poor painter”.  When did Andres “reconcile” with his mother’s family, the Pardo de Taveras?

Hofileña unearthed letters that reveal intimate details of Arch. Andres Luna’s life while in Paris as a student of architecture and his happy marriage with the ballet dancer Grace McCrae who adored him and gave up her career for him. “There can be only one artist in the family, “she used to say. The book includes a list of Andres Luna’s most outstanding projects like the fabulous Crystal Arcade, the Perez-Samanillo building (now F.U.B.), the Victorian-style Legarda Elementary School and Paciano Rizal’s chalet. There are sketches of a catacomb-like church, studies of palatial residences some of which no longer exist, thanks to the wrecker’s ball.

In 1957, the widowed Grace M. Luna selected 42 paintings of her Juan Luna collection to be exhibited during the centennial of the artist’s birth. She offered them to the Philippine government for Php 530,000 and felt very insulted when the latter haggled and refused to pay more than Php180,115. She returned to the USA with the paintings. The book tells you what happened to the “Andres Luna Trove” after the disconsolate Grace McCrae passed away in New York.