God gazes at the Philippines– 87 paintings

“The Lord gazes at the Philippine Islands”: In  Spanish,   “ El Señor mira ( contempla)   a las islas  Filipinas” is a satirically humorous piece,  translated into English by Dr. Encarnacion Alzona in 1957 and included in  “Rizal’s Prose” published by the Rizal Centennial Commission in 1962.  To celebrate the 159th birthday of its author, it was translated into Dutch– “Jesus en Petrus bezoeken (visit) de Filipijnen”– in 2020.

Ferdinand Blumentritt once told Rizal that he should write a history of the Philippines, and judging by the unfinished works he left behind, like the one mentioned above, he could very well have done so.  Instead, he annotated Antonio de Morga’s 17th century book “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas”.  In my generation, we were obliged to take 24 units of Spanish; we could have killed two birds with one stone– Spanish and Philippine history–  had we used Rizal’s works. Unfortunately,  the bishops were against the Rizal Law, so Catholics were exempted from reading Rizal whenever school authorities pleaded  “matter of conscience”.

Could Rizal have availed of a less censored art form? He painted portraits, sketched European landscapes, drew cartoons for nieces and nephews, carved wood and molded clay. But,  unlike  Luna and Hidalgo,   Rizal used pen and ink to fire broadsides and transmit his convictions.

In Rizal’s satire, an elderly, forgetful God the Father who had abandoned the ungrateful inhabitants of planet Earth for  “ adoring saints and other idols in vogue”  heard desperate shrieks from a cluster of green islands, the Philippines.  Archangel Gabriel explained that the inhabitants were subjects of Spain and were oppressed. God was shocked because he had created free and happy humans, not oppressed ones. Gabriel told Him about a  Pope who disposed of Earth in the name of God   Himself and  of friars who behaved  “as if God  were the executor of their frivolous wishes.”  St. Andrew complained that his feast day was used to make money; the Blessed Virgin said she was dressed in ridiculous gowns and dragged from house to house begging for gold. God told  Jesus to go to the Philippines, accompanied by St Peter.

While curating two exhibitions for the National Museum of Fine arts in 2019 (before Covic -19 turned us into hermits),  I felt that if Rizal had wielded brush and oil pigments, he could have painted the 87 images of HOCUS I, Quadricula (HOCUS II) and the yet unseen Juicio Final.

Had Rizal decided to paint the satire, he could have created masterful scenes titled–    “Treaty of Tordesillas”  showing Pope Alexander VI,   “a rascal who had poisoned many and had amorous relations ”  dividing the world between the Catholic Monarchs and the Portuguese king; or,  the   “Marcha del Patronato”,  with a phalanx of belligerent angels descending upon these islands,  waving banners of conquered territories, the newly-created provinces and    “La Brisa de los Fuertes” which depicts the inextricable knot of religion and military power.  The Patronato theme continued in Quadricula  (Hocus II).

Archangel Gabriel told God that in the Philippine islands, everything falls in the hands of the friars. “ I do not remember creating such a thing, what beast is that?” asked the Creator.  An old friar appeared and said that he was a marvel,  he made the Philippines prosperous and extracted all the money he could get. He wrote pastoral letters, sang Te Deums,   sold indulgences, used people’s money to defend them against infidels. There was no poverty, he told God. In fact, he bequeathed his children (three per town where he was parish priest) eight thousand pesos each.  God was so disgusted He threatened to turn him into a filthy animal.

There are several “friar” paintings in  HOCUS I & II that could have come from Rizal’s own brush:  a riveting “ Puente de Capricho”,  shows  Dominicans and Franciscans marching towards a violent head-on clash on top of an arched stone bridge;  in  “ Libro de Almas”   friars check their census of enrolled souls and send them to heaven or hell.   “El Hombre Olvidado” is a dying conquistador surrounded by crafty friars who want to inherit his lands.

In the “Arsenal of the Faith”, a Franciscan friar presents before a board of archangels,  weapons to propagate the Faith like elaborate fiestas and processions about which   St. Andrew and the Blessed Virgin complained in the satire.    “Polos y Servicios” depicts friars as recruiters of indentured labor used to build their churches   A scandalous “Lashes in the name of God” shows a friar in a pulpit ordering a parishioner to whip a woman tied to the communion rail. “The Burning Book” is a Bible in flames in front of friars who blaspheme the Faith. “The Descending Christ” shows the Three Persons in one God on a staircase, mysterious teachings, according to the Creator,  not written by Jesus Christ.

Rizal’s “The Lord gazing on the Philippine Islands” could have been a salon exhibition in  Madrid,  in the 19th century.  Timeless as it is, this satire of Christianization resonates in the 87 paintings of  Hocus and Quadricula exhibited 3 years ago at the National Museum of Fine Arts.