Manansala's "Juan Luna, The Blood Compact" is a unique piece that encapsulates two centuries of Philippine artistry, celebrates not one, but two Filipino masters and delivers a resounding and resonant message that is as true as it is timeless.
It reaches across time to capture a turning point in Philippine history, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century.
Manansala's painting, "Juan Luna, The Blood Compact", is an abstract homage of the 19th century classical painting done by Filipino old master Juan Luna. (Juan Luna produced "El Pacto de Sangre" or "The Blood Compact" as part payment for his scholarship to Rome. Painted in 1886, it now hangs in Malacanang Palace in Manila, in the same glorious style that made Luna one of the most renowned painters in both the French and Spanish courts of the time.)
Measuring 88" x 117", the Luna masterpiece depicts the completion of a treaty of friendship between the Spanish explorer and conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and Sikatuna, king of one of the Philippine islands (Bohol) in the 16th century. The treaty was sealed with a wine toast in which the signatories had shed a few drops of their blood as a token of their sincerity.
Luna's painting is heavily influenced by Velazquez with its dark, nearly ink-black background. Only a single source of light illuminates the scene giving it an intensely dramatic tone. Sikatuna sits at the very edge of the picture with his back to the viewer. A small round shield leans against his bench. His right hand clutches a malay sword while his left hand raises a glass goblet to Legazpi. Legazpi, who dominates the scene with his armored breastplate glinting, frowns with bearded seriousness at his opposite number. He has his right hand raised in a toast. Between the two men is a table that has a partly scrolled parchment upon which Legazpi's left hand rests. The rest of the darkened room is filled with figures of Spanish halberdiers armed to the teeth and clutching martial banners. Between Legazpi and this military delegation crouches a cassocked priest.
Luna's paintings were rife with symbols and gestures that propagated the rising aspirations of the nascent Philippine Republic of the 19th century. This work was no exception. First of all was his choice of subject: Bohol would be one of the first islands that rose in rebellion against the Spanish crown in the 18th century. It did so successfully and remained autonomous (and prosperous) for several years before being re-conquered by Spanish forces. The blood compact referred to a time when Filipino and Spaniard looked across a negotiating table as equals -- an ambition that Filipino intellectuals labored to achieve once again by lobbying the Spanish Cortes (Parliament).
The composition itself shows a lopsided emphasis on the Spanish presence and their constant threat of violence. Sikatuna's faceless figure is meant to remind the viewer that Filipinos would be anonymous and somehow worthless in the eyes of the Spaniards. Seeming to creep out of the background but at the very center of the scene lurks a friar. Shadowy but all-pervasive, the power of the Church in the Philippines was a constant in the colonial Philippine government.
Manansala's rendition of this pivotal historical scene is faithful to Luna's composition but takes this now iconic image and updates it for the 20th century.
Darkness is banished and in a tour de force of abstraction and vivid color, Manansala breathes new life - and political perspective -- into the message, making it not so much a parable from the pages of Filipino colonial history but a snapshot of the Philippines role in global trade and commerce.
Painted in the halcyon years of the Philippines economic development in the 1960s, Manansala transforms Luna's darkly brooding scene into a joyous moment. While acknowledging the historical baggage of the Philippine relationship with Spain, Manansala has imbued it with an atmosphere of friendship. Sikatuna's face is now partly visible and his hand is raised even higher than Legazpi's in a gesture of enthusiastic camaraderie. Created in the time period of a successful, rambunctiously independent new republic, Manansala bestows on Sikatuna a victor's generosity and celebrates the triumph of successful negotiations.
"Juan Luna, The Blood Compact" was acquired directly from the painter and has remained in the hands of the family of the collector until the present. Both Manansala and his estate have attempted to re-acquire this piece over the last decades, in recognition of its beauty and rarity. The work has not been exhibited in public until this current offering by Christies.