By Juan Luna
The Spoliarium is the most valuable oil-on-canvas painting by Juan Luna, a Filipino educated at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura (Philippines) and at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain. With a size of 4.22 meters x 7.675 meters, it is the largest painting in the Philippines. A historical painting, it was made by Luna in 1884 as an entry to the prestigious Exposicion de Bellas Artes (Madrid Art Exposition, May 1884) and eventually won for him the First Gold Medal.
The painting features a glimpse of Roman history centered on the bloody carnage brought by gladiatorial matches.
Spoliarium is a Latin word referring to the basement of the Roman Colosseum where the fallen and dying gladiators are dumped and devoid of their worldly possessions.
At the center of Luna’s painting are fallen gladiators being dragged by Roman soldiers. On the left, spectators ardently await their chance to strip off the combatants of their metal helmets and other armory. In contrast with the charged emotions featured on the left, the right side meanwhile presents a somber mood. An old man carries a torch perhaps searching for his son while a woman weeps the death of her loved one.
Spoliarium is on display at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Manila.
In one of the tragic scenes in the film Heneral Luna, Luna’s bloody, lifeless body is dragged mercilessly. The scene is a recreation of Juan Luan’s Spolarium, (Gen. Antonio Luna and Juan Luna were siblings). It depicts a certain parallelism between the fate of Gen. Luna in the 1890s and the savage gladiators of ancient Rome.