Curator s Notes RCBC Plaza by pengxiang


									                                                                                                    RCBC Plaza
                                                                          Corner Ayala & Gil J. Puyat Avenues
YUCHENGCO                                                           Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines 1200

       MUSEUM                                                          (+632) 889.1234 (+632) 887.5144 fax

            Mukhang Tsinoy: Portraits by Fernando Amorsolo
                               By Jeannie E. Javelosa
                             Curator, Yuchengco Museum

        What is it in man that seeks immortality? To be painted or carved, forever to

 be immortalized? Some indigenous cultures of the world believe that to capture the

 likeness of a person would mean to capture his soul. From the ancient world,

 Etruscan portraits on hardened clay stare back in vivid detail. In literature, the

 gripping story of Dorian Gray brought the portrait into a supernatural level where the

 portrait equaled the soul of the subject. Self portraits by the Dutch painter Rembrandt

 van Rijn form a unique and intimate biography in which the artist surveyed himself

 without vanity and with the utmost sincerity, reflecting the profound inner

 transformations through his life. And there is the intuitive exuberant portraiture of

 Tomas Gainsborough where fashion, society, and lyricism were celebrated against

 the enigmatic English landscape.

        Through time and culture, the artist has sought to capture the soul of a period

 or society, and sitters willingly obliged. Sitters posed in well-appointed interiors or

 landscapes in their finest clothes in order to document their property, good taste, and

 sophistication. Portraits also show individuals either self-consciously posing in ways

 that convey a sense of timelessness or captured in the midst of work or daily activity.

 During some historical periods, portraits were severe and emphasized authority and,

 during other periods, artists worked to communicate spontaneity and the sensation

 of life. A confident gaze, a bold pose, a roguish smile, or a striking goatee all express

 something about an individual’s personality or character, while an attribute or a coat

 of arms discloses more about the sitter’s background or profession.

       For whatever reason—vanity, social status, remembrance, and recognition—

that the portrait was made, portraits can be studied at different levels. They come

down to us through time to convey the flavor of the era and the physical likeness and

identity of the person. At the same time, they present virtues to be admired:

intelligence, humor, honesty, strength, and beauty. More insightful portraits have

subtly touched satire, revealing characterizations where hints of smugness, pride,

and even cruelty could be glimpsed. By means of such devices as clothing, pose,

gesture, inscriptions, and the position of the figure in relation to others, artists were

able to successfully convey the subject’s character in the portrait.

       In non-Western societies, portraiture is less likely to emphasize visual

likeness than in Western cultures. In the East, the great culture of China had the xie

zhen (true to life portrayal) image. Murals of paintings with portraits can be traced as

early as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) evidenced that murals with portraits

already existed during this time.

       Chinese portraiture is largely a product of social practices related to public

declarations of status or identity and religious rituals of commemoration. It became

customary for the monarchs and members of the ruling class to commission nearly

life-size portraits of themselves—huge hanging scrolls that are intricately detailed

and brightly colored. Apparently, these portraits serve a dual purpose: First, to hang

during their rule, and second, to serve as a reminder of their dynasty after they

passed away.

       Portraiture was part of a religious ritual in a culture that worshipped its

ancestors. Oftentimes, portraits of the dead were painted on the tombs of individuals

or hung at altars in the homes of relatives. Undoubtedly, ancestor worship has been

deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture. Since the 16th century, painted scrolls of

deceased parents and forebears have been the center of private family rituals of all

types of Chinese peoples (from emperors to scholars to peasants). The Chinese

believe that through these rituals, the deceased become guided in the afterlife.

Based on tradition, three practices are done before the Chinese ancestor paintings

as signs of worship: (1) burning of incense, (2) offering of food and wine, and (3)

kowtow, in which one kneels and touches the forehead to the ground. It is worthy to

note that kowtow is done before the painting not only for worship, but also because it

is believed that the ancestor could bring forth good luck and charm.

       The backgrounds of Chinese ancestor paintings are extravagantly rendered—

magnificent jewels are often on display, and chairs are covered with lush fabrics or

animal skins and set on vividly colored carpets depicted in great detail. Interestingly,

however, the sitter’s facial expressions are almost devoid of emotion—the somber

and detached look is a prescribed part of the ritual and is thought to communicate

the deceased person’s otherworldly status.

       We find traces of this Chinese value system in the large double portrait of

Enrique and Maria Yuchengco painted by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco

(1913 – 1968) which dominates the Masters Gallery of the Yuchengco Museum. This

painting was transferred from the Yuchengco family mausoleum. The realistic

likeness of the personalities is juxtaposed against symbolic elements of history and

Philippine myth as was characteristic of the style of the country’s great muralist.

       A more somber and intimate interpretation of the couple, which can be seen in

the Ancestral Gallery, are these two paintings done by National Artist Fernando

Amorsolo (1892 – 1972).

       Both paintings are intimately set in the home. Enrique is dressed in a Western

coat and tie, representing assimilation into a Filipino culture that had already been

won over by influences from the West. Maria, on the other hand, is painted wearing a

pale blue traditional floral cheongsam, rooting her to the deep Chinese culture from

where the family came from. The background is more intimate and personal as the

sitters are both set against the interiors of their home, impressionistically, almost

amorphously painted by Amorsolo.

       Inspired by these main pieces in the museum collection, and aligning with the

fundamental thematic thrust of the museum to highlight the culture, stories, and

expressions of the Filipino-Chinese, known as Tsinoys (people of Chinese ancestry,

but raised in the Philippines), the Yuchengo Museum joins the Amorsolo

Retrospective with an exhibit entitled Mukhang Tsinoy. Many of these Amorsolo

portraits of Tsinoy personalities are on public display for the first time.

       In the Philippines, the first hints of the art of portraiture can be traced to the

prehistoric burial jars’ head figures found in the Maitum cave of Saranggani, South

Cotabato. Later, portraits called larawan represented specific ancestors or heroes.

When the Spaniards came and colonized the Philippines in the 16th century, their

culture and religion inspired portraiture. It took Filipino artists only two or three

centuries to absorb—and modify according to their taste and temperament—

Western art, which had taken the Europeans themselves several centuries to

develop. In the process, the classical heritage of the ikon (Greek word for “portrait”)

as distilled in the Spanish concept of the imagen was integrated by the Filipino artists

with the Chinese idea of the hua and the Malay principle of larawan.

       During the Spanish period, portraits in the country were exclusive to Spanish

government officials and church figures. Official portraits include those of the rulers,

heroes, and prominent men gathered in government, academic, religious, and

business sectors for public edification.

       However, the art of portraiture in the Philippines finally gained its importance

with the development of international trade in the 19th century, which led to the

surfacing of the local merchant class, the mestizo, and native elite. With their

newfound wealth, this affluent class commissioned artists to have their portraits

painted as a means to indulge and document their social ascendance.

       Portraitists of the 19th century employed a miniaturist technique of painting,

wherein much attention is given to minute details, such as the texture and elaborate

embroidery of costumes, every bead or stone of jewelry, and design of domestic

furniture. The members of the emergent class were then portrayed with their best

dresses, adorned with a set of jewelry, and surrounded with fine fixtures in their

furnished home interiors.

       Portrait artists also followed certain conventions in terms of the body

arrangement and facial expression of the sitter, giving enough attention even to the

how the hands and fingers are positioned. Filipino men were usually portrayed

wearing their formal costume, the barong tagalog, often standing and with a book in

his hand. This, in a way, asserts the authority of men in society, and how Filipinos

value education. The ladies of the upper class were depicted wearing their Sunday

dress made from silk, elaborately embroidered piña, jusi, or abaca. They were also

ornamented with rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and combs or peinetas

embellished with gold, pearl or diamond. The sitter usually stares at the viewer while

holding a lace handkerchief, fan, prayer book or rosary considered as essential

props of the 19th century. The transition of a Filipina image from one period to

another is readily depicted in portraits.

       It was from this portrait painting tradition that Fernando Amorsolo emerged as

the master painter during the 1920s American Commonwealth period in the

Philippines. Aside from the wide array of subject matter that he painted, Amorsolo

was also sought after as a portraitist. His popularity continued decades after the

post-war period, peaking in popularity in the decades of the 1930s to the 1950s. He

was the artist of choice of rich influential and famous matrons and debutantes,

businessmen, and government officials. His portraits of US official and foreign

visitors in the Philippines were numerous such that commissions also came from


       Typical of Amorsolo’s portraits depict beautiful and modest Filipinas,

furthering his interest in capturing the ideal image of Filipino womanhood and

exemplifying her traditional role in society. He painted them with the traditional baro’t

saya costume, and adorned with jewelries often holding a rosary. While subtle

details of wealth such as furniture and religious images were often included in the

compositions, he veered away from the distinct characteristic of the 19th century

portraiture style that focused on details. Instead, his impressionistic brushstrokes

sought to capture the likeness of the sitter within a timeless background. He seated

his fair, slant–eyed Tsinoy personalities in chairs, the women graceful in either the

traditional Chinese or Filipino costumes and adorned with jewelry made from gold or

jade. The men were very often in western suits already revealing the affluence of the

ethnic group rising in social status as the quiet foundations of the economic power

that they would inevitably yield.


To top