Art is for remembering
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2015 - 9:00am

Before Quiapo became a commercial district bursting to the seams with sidewalk vendors and illegal markets, pilgrims and herbalists, smoke-belching jeepneys and buses and clogged esteros, Quiapo had elegant riverside mansions not unlike those in Venice.

According to online sources, “Old Quiapo, especially that aristocratic stretch of Calle San Sebastian [later Calle R. Hidalgo] from the 1850s until the 1920s, was actually an elegant place…”

Among the old, prominent families who lived on R. Hidalgo was the Araneta-Zaragoza family, alongside the new Chinese rich who owned commercial real estate of the Quiapo district.

Today, R. Hidalgo of the elegant homes and stately dinners is but a memory, with the street a “hodgepodge of knick-knack vendors, covering legitimate business establishments mostly selling photography-related items.”

Salvador Araneta, one of the children of lawyer, businessman and nationalist Don Gregorio Araneta and his wife Doña Carmen Zaragoza, recalled that their home on R. Hidalgo had “decorative painted walls, which had been originally done by master Toribio Antillon and his pupils Modesto Reyes and Juan Arellano. The living room was done in the renacimiento style of the period. The entrance hall, the caida and my mother’s tocador were done in art nouveau while my father’s private library had Pompeian decorations.”

Imagine these in Quiapo now! But a part of the life the Aranetas led can still be seen and felt by those of us nostalgic for the days when Manila was stately and as picture-pretty as many cities in Europe.

Gregorio Araneta married Carmen Zaragoza on March 7, 1896. Their marriage was blessed with 14 children: Carmen, Jose, Salvador, Consuelo, Paz, Rosa, Antonio, Teresa, Ramon, Vicente, Conchita, Margarita, Luis (the architect) and Francisco.

J. Antonio Araneta, son of Gregorio, was a lawyer, having followed the footsteps of his father. His enthusiasm for art was nourished by his childhood in the family’s pre-war ancestral house in Quiapo. The house is no more but the spirit of collecting art never left J. Antonio.

Countless artworks from Luna to the modernists were displayed in the Araneta home in Forbes Park, where guests like US President Richard Nixon and all of the country’s Presidents during their time were entertained by the high-brow J. Antonio and his beauteous wife Margarita.

Among the grandchildren of J. Antonio Araneta are former Malacañang Social Secretary Bettina Araneta Aboitiz and the children of Gemma Cruz Araneta, Leon and Fatima.

According to Jaime Ponce de Leon of Leon Gallery, which is auctioning works of art from the Araneta collection on Dec. 5, Margarita Araneta was a “painter’s dream.” She in fact sat for Fernando Amorsolo in 1953.

“Their sterling collection is a metaphor for their exemplary lives and each work of art reveals a different facet to the couple’s brilliant legacies,” adds De Leon.

“The Araneta collection is unique for its exemplary provenance. J. Antonio was guided by his brother Luis, who is known as the ultimate post-war collector of Philippine art. The pieces in the collection are the finest examples of the early 20th-century masters like Fabian de la Rosa, Vicente Rivera y Mir, Dominador Castañeda, Fernando Amorsolo and even both the leaders of Modernism in the Philippines — Juan Arellano and Victorio Edades,” reveals De Leon.

A painting isn’t just a visual feast, it is a storyteller in itself, connecting you to halcyon days, recreating a once-upon-a-time so vividly the past leaps to life again.




(Leon Gallery’s Kingly Treasures Auction 2015 will be on Saturday, 2 p.m., at Eurovilla 1, Rufino cor.  Legazpi Sts., Makati City.) (You may e-mail me at

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