Extremely Rare and Historically Important Wood
Sculpture by Jose Rizal to be Auctioned
An oval bas-relief wood sculpture 39 inches long, 18 and a half inches wide and 2 and a half inches high, carved from a single piece of heavy wood, possibly narra, with a dark varnish or stain and made by Philippine National Hero Jose P. Rizal in Dapitan. This extremely rare and historically important artwork will be auctioned at the Leon Gallery on June 9, 2018.
It’s provenance stems from the family of Narcisa Rizal (1852 – 1939), the third sibling of the hero’s family. Narcisa and her daughter Angelica would be frequent visitors to Dapitan and, in fact, they would accompany him when he embarked to Manila at the end of his exile from that distant port.
By the end of the 19th century, “physical culture” or the need for exercise had become a European obsession, beginning first in Germany where it became not just an expression of the highest individual development but also as a symbol for nationalism. A nation was only as strong as its citizens’ health and as beautiful as their well-developed bodies.
Jose Rizal was an avid follower of all things Continental, his stay in Europe—in the shadow of the newly-built Eiffel Tower, for example, while in Paris—and its capitals made sure of that. He absorbed not only precepts of liberty, fraternity and equality but also their representations and methods employed to represent these.
Gaspar Vibal, publisher of rare Filipininanas “The Life, Times and Art of Damian Domingo” and “Flora Filipina”, theorizes that Rizal’s fascinating sculptures represents the national hero’s deliberate contradiction of the Filipino colonial archetypes.
Prior to this sculpture by Jose Rizal, Filipins had been represented as either indolent savages of prettified, emasculated townsfolk. Watercolors of these representations of half-naked tribesmen or ineffectual, over-dressed supernumeraries would circulate in Europe beginning in the latter half of the 19th century, culminating in the humiliating “Expocision General de las Yslas Filipinas de Madrid in 1887. It featured transplanted northern hillsmen dancing daily around carabaos in a backdrop of thatch huts. (Two or three of these Filipinos would, in fact perish, from pneumonia as a result.
It was the anti-thesis of everything Jose Rizal—or for that matter Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo—stood for. A proud Filipino equal to anybody in the world.
In 1890, he would write the incendiary essay “Sobre la Indolencia de los Filipinos” (On the Indolence of the Filipinos)—laziness as a result of the hot Philippine climate being a favorite put-down of the Spanish. It breathed fire and brimstone, and along with his novels, would account for his exile in Dapitan in 1892 for four long years until his execution.
Therefore, sometime during his exile between 1892 and 1896, Jose Rizal would create this unique and first prototype of the Filipino: virile, muscular and engaged in a highly civilized, European display of strength. The bas relief (or basso-relieve or low-relief) depicts a young man, half-dressed in fashionable gym clothes of the time, knee length pantaloons with a drawstring at the waist; holding aloft a barbell in a typical exercise stance. The figure’s legs are long and well-proportioned with strong calves; his arm muscles as well are well-defined. His upper torso shows off a tight abdomen and a solid chest.
In fact, a case may be made that this could be a self-portrait of the hero himself, as truly, the ‘First Filipino’, not only gifted and mentally acute but also an outstanding physical specimen. Jose Rizal, in profile, bears a striking resemblance to the athlete in the sculpture.
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