In 1968, Antonio Villegas (then Mayor of Manila), commissioned Carlos "Botong" Francisco to paint the history of Manila for Manila City Hall. The series of large scale paintings was called Kasaysayan ng Maynila (History of Manila). The paintings deteriorated over time and no attempt was made to preserve these historical canvases until 2013 when Mayor Amado Lim sent them to the National Museum for extensive restoration. Four years later, in 2017, Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Manila City Council signed an agreement with the National Museum to leave the paintings at the museum so they may reach a larger audience in exchange for museum grade reproductions to replace the originals. Kasaysayan ng Maynila was later renamed Filipino Struggles in History and is now on display at the Senate Hall of the National Museum.
Carlos "Botong" Francisco died in March 1969, a few months after completing the paintings. He is one of the first Filipino modernists and together with Victorio Edades and Galo Ocampo, steered Philippine art from the romantic school of Fernando Amorsolo to the modernist art movement. His paintings draw inspiration from local village life, particularly from his hometown in Angono and are defined by bold colors, ornamental patterns and pulsating lines. He was posthumously awarded the National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Filipino Struggles in History was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 1996.
The images I've included here are sections of the paintings. They are in chronological order beginning with pre-colonial Philippines through Philippine Independence.
In the first scene above, a Datu of Maynilad (Manila) and his wife, surrounded by their retinue, are examining a silk fabric being shown to them by a Chinese merchant. In the foreground (left) an Arab trader watches a native pour what looks like indigo into a jar. (Maynila is derived from "may nila" which means, there is nila. Nila is a Sanskrit word for indigo.) An Indian national in the background has drawn a crowd around him while fishermen dive into the Pasig River. Botong successfully portrays the rich flow of commerce in pre-colonial Philippines.
Rajah Sulayman and his men with bolos (knives) and arrows in hand, survey the scene in front of them. They are framed by flaming torches on the left, a foreboding of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores,on the right. Botong uses flames, swirling drapery and clouds as transitional elements and to divide the canvas in order to illustrate new scenarios.
The proverbial cross and sword are thoughtfully engaged in this scene. The cross is the symbol of Christianity and the sword represents conquest and exploitation. Converts kneel before the cross while the fighting goes on in the background.
A Spanish official raises his cup for a victory toast while a Datu sits hunched and forlorn with his back to the official.
Lim Ah Hong, a Chinese pirate, together with his men, clash with Spanish soldiers (on the left) while three representatives from the state, the church and the military pore over a map (center). A galleon sails in the background (right) and above it is an image of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is the patroness of the galleon trade. A 17th century wooden image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage was brought to the Philippines by Governor General Juan Niño de Tabora and is enshrined at the Antipolo Cathedral in Rizal province.
Spain was dragged into the 7 Years War between France and Britain after it signed an alliance with France. The British lost no time in sending their fleet to Manila where they easily defeated the Spaniards. The war ended in 1763 but the British occupation of Manila and Cavite lasted until 1764, when they finally received word in Manila that the war was over. The British were unable to penetrate into other parts of the islands but they were well rewarded with the confiscation of two ships, the Filipina which was laden with silver from Mexico and Santissima Trinidad carrying Chinese goods.
The highly profitable galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco flourished as did the Catholic religion in the islands. A procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary is in progress. The tradition of religious processions in the Philippines continues to this day.
Francisco Balagtas (Francisco Baltazar) is known as the Prince of Filipino poets. His most important work is the epic romance, Florante and Laura. Balagtas wrote the romance while in prison and published it upon his release. The story of this poem parallels the life of Balagtas who lost the love of his life, Celia, to the man who put him in jail. In the painting, characters from Florante and Laura (above the head and to the left of the writer) provide an exotic element to the scene. The influence of Balagtas on Philippine literature is significant and "balagtasan", a form of extemporaneous debate in verse, is still in practice today.
In his book Noli Me Tangere (Touch me not), Jose Rizal exposes the abuses and corruption of the Spanish regime. His dedication reads:
"To my Fatherland,
Recorded in the history of human sufferings is a cancer so malignant a character that the least touch irritates it and awakens in it the sharpest pains. Thus how many times in the midst of modern civilizations I have wished to call thee before me, now to accompany me in my memories, not to compare thee with other countries, hath thy dear image presented showing a social cancer like to that other."
Jose Rizal was executed by a firing squad in 1896 for sedition. He was 35 years old.
The Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangan Katipunan ng Anak ng Bayan (KKK or Katipunan) was a secret society organized in 1892 to gain independence from Spain through a revolution. To become a member of the KKK, an applicant must sign his name with his blood.
Members of the KKK tear up their cedulas (personal registration tax certificate) signaling their break from the colonial government.
Andres Bonifacio, one of the founders of the KKK, is depicted leading his men in the fight for Philippine independence.
"What love is greater than the wholesome and heroic love of your own country? What other love? Nothing else." Andres Bonifacio
The Treaty of Paris of 1898 ended the colonial rule of Spain in the Philippines. The Philippines was ceded to the United States for $20 million and a new government was formed under the "benevolent assimilation" agenda of the United States of America.
The war for independence continues, this time against the Americans.
Manuel L. Quezon and Manuel Roxas lobbied in Washington D.C. for Philippine Independence. The United States granted Commonwealth status to the islands and Quezon became the President of the Commonwealth from 1935-1944. Quezon took refuge in the United States during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines.
Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines to help liberate the country from the Japanese and fulfill his promise. When he escaped from the Philippines in 1942, his famous parting words were, "I shall return".
Philippine Independence was declared on July 4, 1946. July 4th is also the independence day of the USA. Both flags are raised to commemorate the event. Philippine Independence Day was later changed to June 12 to conform with the declaration of independence proclaimed by Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite in 1898.
Filipino Struggles in History at the Senate Hall
Note: There is a three-panel painting that is not in the Senate Hall. These panels portray Mayor Villegas' progressive vision for the city of Manila and will hang in the Vicente and Carmen Hall in the near future.
Here are links to other articles I’ve written about the artworks of Carlos Botong Francisco:
Progress of Medicine in the Philippines: https://www.travelswithcharie.com/2018/07/the-art-of-carlos-botong-francisco.html
A Nation Imagined: https://www.travelswithcharie.com/2013/03/botong.html
This Small Museum Packs a Punch: https://www.travelswithcharie.com/2016/08/this-small-museum-packs-punch.html
About the National Museum of the Philippines
Padre Burgos Drive, Manila
Entrance is free. No bags are allowed in the museum. Leave personal belongings at the bag counter near the main doors to the museum. No flash photography is allowed in the museum.
Images by TravelswithCharie