Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece unveiled at Ayala Museum Multimedia Show

Lisa Guerrero Nakpil - The Philippine Star
Juan Luna�s long-lost masterpiece unveiled at Ayala Museum Multimedia Show
Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece, ‘Hymen, oh Hyménée! (Roman Wedding)’ was unveiled by Ayala Museum with León Gallery in time for the 125th year of Philippine nationhood. The immersive exhibit ‘Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero’ opens to the public on June 12.

MANILA, Philippines — In time for the 125th year of Philippine independence, Ayala Museum with the cooperation of León Gallery unveiled last night Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece for the first time in the country.

Titled “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” or “Roman Wedding,” it has been widely revered by art collectors as the holy grail of Filipino art. The work was last seen in public 132 years ago in Paris at the iconic Universal Exposition that also gave the world the Eiffel Tower, before the painting disappeared into private hands and became the stuff of legend.

“Hymen, oh Hyménée!” is now the subject of an immersive, single-work exhibition at Ayala Museum, titled “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero.” The show opens to the public tomorrow, June 12.

It was with this work that Luna would be catapulted officially into the league of “master painter,” cementing his standing in the world’s artistic capital.

Once again, it confirmed his undeniable genius and artistry in the face of racial bias – an all-too familiar predicament Filipinos all over the world face even today. Juan Luna’s victories, to quote historian Ambeth R. Ocampo, “produced a groundswell of pride in his countrymen that resonates to our times in much the same way as Lea Salonga’s triumph on the West End and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s conquest of World Boxing and, last but not the least, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz’s bringing home the first Olympic Gold to a proud and grateful nation.”

Find of the century

The quest for “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” by art collector Jaime Ponce de Leon, founder and director of León Gallery, was first a dream and later an obsession that found him following leads and clues across Europe for close to 10 years. The chase would come to fruition when he finally acquired the legendary artwork in 2017, but it sat in a crate in his storeroom waiting for the perfect moment to reveal itself.

In 2022, thanks to extraordinary circumstances that led to an unprecedented long-term loan to Ayala Museum, that perfect time had come with the impending commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood in 2023.

“It is uncommon to have an exhibition solely about an individual work of art,” said Ma. Elizabeth “Mariles” Gustilo of Ayala Museum. “But a long-lost cultural treasure like ‘Hymen, oh Hyménée!’ clearly has stories to tell about a time and place not our own and yet reveals how much has remained the same,” she added.

Ayala Museum’s exhibition “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero,” with exhibition design by scenographer Gino Gonzales, analyzes this single work of art around three themes: the world of 1889; Juan Luna, the painter, as hero; and the complex imagery of the painting inspired by a Roman wedding feast.

The exhibition is co-presented by Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land Inc. and Insular Life (InLife) with major support by BPI and SMEG. It runs until Dec. 31, 2023.

A substantive and handsome catalog with essays by historian Ambeth Ocampo, film director Martin Arnaldo and curators Ditas Samson, Tenten Mina and Jei Ente capture this watershed moment in the artist’s life and, by implication, our nation’s history, Gustilo shared. A documentary by Martin Arnaldo, shown in the Samsung Premiere Room of the exhibition space and to be aired on CNN Philippines on July 8 (with replays on July 9 and 10), traces the recovery of the artwork while at the same time captures the dilemma of the late 19th century Filipino diaspora like Juan Luna, which arguably is still true for his countrymen living and working abroad today. A video tour, decoding the painting’s rich imagery, voiced by Ocampo, will also be available for viewing on Ayala Museum’s website.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood, Ayala Museum will be free to the public on the opening day of “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” tomorrow, June 12.

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