From the rubble, from the reservation
When the artillery fire of the United States of America and Japanese forces obliterated the buildings of what Filipinos today know as Old Manila, underneath the rubble, among the bodies, were remnants of paintings. A considerable number of 19th century works housed in government buildings and within homes of the upper crust of Philippine society were lost in the Battle of Manila. Among them was a large mural by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo: Per Pacem et Libertatem (For Peace and Liberty). A painting that in its neoclassical glory told of the supposed peace with the United States would, some forty years later, be destroyed by the guns of the same nation.
Before it found its way to Manila, Per Pacem et Libertatem was first exhibited in the St. Louis World Fair of 1904. The world fair boasted of several exhibitions, structures and waterways, all spectacles to encourage wonder. The works of art from the Philippines were segregated from the main hall of paintings located at the Art Palace. It was magnificent structure surrounded by undulating fountains that glimmered under the sun. The structure consisted of a Central Building as the hall of exhibitions for American painters; the East and West pavilions for “Foreign Exhibits;” and a separate Sculpture Court for said art form. Not among the “Foreign Countries” category, the Philippines was meant to be displayed in a reservation away from declared nations.
View an illustrated catalogue of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition here.
Hidalgo’s twenty four canvases were among six hundred thirty four Filipino works[i] that were shipped to the United States to be hung within the forty acre Philippine reservation. The canvases were displayed at the ground floor of the Government Building within the land allotted for the Philippine exhibition. The same building housed the offices of the Philippine Exposition Board which sat comfortably at the second floor of the two-story building. Familiar names were exhibited along with Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo; among them: Juan Luna, Miguel Zaragosa, Fabian dela Rosa, etc.
Many fair-goers marveled at the capacity of the so-called noble savages for producing the canvases that hung in the Government Building. The report by the Philippine Exposition board written by Leon Maria Guerrero describes the Philippine art contingency as, “…an exhibition of native art that is nothing short of wonderful. It serves to show most impressively that the Filipinos have developed an art of their own, though traces of Spanish influence are visible. The most conspicuous painting here is the great allegorical painting by Hidalgo.”[ii] [italics by writer]
Among the works sent by Hidalgo, Per Pacem et Libertatem became the highlight of the Philippine delegation of paintings.
“…Of this tint is the symbolic painting which this famous artist executed for the Philippine Exposition Board, and which represents the Philippines conquered and offering the United States a branch of olive as a sign of peace.”[iii]
The monumental work measured twenty feet in height and fifteen feet in width[iv], for which Hidalgo was paid twenty-five thousand francs[v] by the Philippine Exposition Board. The amount in today’s currency, would total to about one hundred thirty eight thousand dollars.[vi] The price of elegantly presented propaganda.
The figure of the Philippines is represented by a woman, dressed in a dark sheet, purposefully positioned below the figure of the United States, shown in this painting as Columbia, sword sheathed, flag of the United States billowing behind her. The goddess, the female counterpart of Columbus. One arm of the Philippines holds a bolo, the other holds out an olive branch that, apart from being a symbol of hope, is coincidentally the tree of the goddess Athene, from whom Columbia’s femininity was patterned. A catalogue describing the figure of the Philippines goes on to say that she is, “… a lonely, sorrow-stricken woman in black beseechingly holding out the olive branch to Columbia.”[vii] A desperation for peace and reconciliation with mother America.
The scene is lit by the torch of Lady Liberty positioned at the center of the painting, an arm outstretched not unlike that of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, though in this context, one Liberty lighting the way for the colonized to find their way into reconciliation with a proclaimed benevolent colonizer. Strewn around the figures of the Philippines and the United States are children meant to be symbols of the arts, commerce and industry. Possibilities that, if read through this painting, are only achievable when peace is attained between the two nations.
Perhaps it is vital also to see the contrasts of the Philippine gallery of art against the other Philippine exhibitions present in the same Exposition. Within the Philippine reservation were Filipinos presented as specimens. Given the largest budget for exhibition expenses was the entire Philippine reservation, allotted 500,000[viii] dollars to ship in works, raw materials, and the greatest spectacle of all, the specimen that was the United States’ Little Brown Brothers. “The Igorot race represents the wildest race of savages, the scouts stand for the results of American rule—extremes of social orders in the islands.”[ix]
On one end of the spectrum works of art frequently visited, lauded for the delicate technique, the masterful strokes and evocations of reality, on the other end whole groups of Filipinos presented as scheduled shows. “The approach is picturesque,”[x] a catalogue says describing the expanse and the layout of the Philippine reservation, a landscape and view to be consumed, savages only half-civilized.
In 2013, the Lopez Museum and Library created the exhibition, “Complicated,” curated by Ethel Villafranca and Ricky Francisco. The study[xi] of Per Pacem et Libertatem was used by artist Leslie de Chavez as a jump -off point for his work as described by the curators below:
“Leslie de Chavez interacts with Hidalgo’s painting through his oil on gold leaf on wooden panel work. Not Everything That Glitters is Gold takes the bottom right area of Per Pacem et Libertatem and blew it up. Recreating the painting, de Chavez states that it was also challenging for him to replicate the seemingly detailed yet soft and painterly style of Hidalgo. He also mentions that he specifically used the Hidalgo painting since it represents benevolent assimilation, a proclamation that was issued by US President William McKinley in 1898 during the Philippine-American war. It reads:
"Finally, it should be the earnest wish and paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”
Hidalgo’s Per Pacem et Libertatem was scheduled to be returned to the Philippines to be housed in a government building of the country’s choosing after the end of the world fair. The painting came back; some Filipinos were not lucky enough to have the same fate.
Architecture and visual art came hand-in-hand during the pre-war years of Manila. Buildings were designed to house works of art, as opposed to buildings being ready made, with works of art fitted after the fact. On the expanse of the wall of the Marble Hall located within the Ayuntamiento de Manila, hung Hidalgo’s monumental work. The building housed the Philippine Assembly in the time that Hidalgo’s work was proudly displayed on its walls.
When Manila found itself in the crossfire of the United States and Japanese forces in the Second World War, the Legislative Building, the Manila Post Office, and the Ayuntamiento among many landmarks were gunned and bombed to the ground. The studies of the final work of Per Pacem et Libertatem find themselves in several collections, among those the Lopez Museums’. These studies, somewhat ghosts, are imprints of a past blurred between truth and nurtured fiction. Manila was leveled, and with it the Filipinos and their capital.
Per Pacem et Libertatem buried underneath the remnants of hallowed halls may serve as a reminder of how perceptions of Philippine history are formed. Much like the approach of the Americans towards assimilation, the painting seems harmless, an elegant depiction of two countries, but in history we find that there is more to this re-presentation of narratives. In contextualizing the piece, one realizes the polarizing conditions from which it was birthed in, conditions wherein the Philippines took the role of the beseeching islands awaiting its turn for development under the careful handholding of the Americans.
Read more about Hidalgo and his politics in Marian Pastor Roces’ essay: Hidalgo and Luna: Vexed Modernity.
Read more about the Lopez Museum and Library’s exhibition Complicated and the rest of Leslie de Chavez’ featured works in this article, or through Ren Aguila’s Purita Kalaw Shortlisted essay: Re-Reading History: A Review of Complicated, Lopez Museum.
[i] Number taken from the records of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Saint Louis, M. (1904). Official catalogue Philippine exhibits. St. Louis: For the Committee on press and publicity, by the Official catalogue company (inc.).
[ii] Louisiana Purchase Exposition Saint Louis, M., Rau, W. Herman., Official Photographic Company. (1904). The greatest of expositions completely illustrated: official publication. St. Louis: Official Photographic Company of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition..]. 229.
[vi] There is a note in the book, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and the Generation of 1972 published by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc. written by Alfredo Roces, that Hidalgo received 10,000 pesos from the Philippine Exposition board for Per Pacem et Libertatem. However, the primary source for the information stated in the publication is unknown to the writer of this article.
[viii] Louisiana Purchase Exposition Saint Louis, M. (1903). Domestic exploitation of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, World’s Fair, St. Louis, 1904: Containing a list of all appropiations in the interest of government, state, county and municipal participation, together with a list of authorized commissions representing the same. [St. Louis]: [s.n.].
[xi] A study in this context is a preliminary sketch. It was common practice for artists to create studies especially for large scale works. Studies may consist of single elements within the painting (i.e. one of the figures of the whole), or can be an initial sketch of the final product. Studies can be done in pencil, or in paint.