“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
~ Pablo Picasso
If you find reading books to learn about a country’s history and culture too tedious, go to museums. That’s a more exciting way of learning given that there are visuals to aid it. And museums, being (mostly) quiet, offer a break from the daily nuisance of a bustling city.
It seemed unlikely, but in spite of living in Baguio City for 9 months, I didn’t visit the BenCab Museum. When I went back to the place a year later in January, 2017, it was originally part of my itinerary. But curling up during chilly mornings in Baguio is irresistible, so instead of going out early, I heeded the bed’s call.
Being an item in my bucket list this year, it must be ticked off, so in May, when my friends and I went to Baguio (my second visit this year), we went to the distant museum despite the limited time we had.
BenCab Museum is located along Asin Road in Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet, a 20- to 30-minute drive from the city proper. If you plan to go there via taxi cab, I suggest that you ask the driver to come back for you at a specified time, or ask him to wait for you, then pay him extra according to the accumulated distance, or time. Otherwise, you will have to wait for your turn, which takes a while, on the taxi line. There are public market-bound jeepneys passing by the area, but most of them are full.
The museum has four levels, starting from the Street Level (where you enter, register, and pay the P120 admission fee) all the way down to the Farm & Garden Level where Café Sabel is situated. Heads up: They don’t use paper cups, so don’t expect that you can take your coffee out. It’s a museum after all, food and beverage is not allowed in the galleries.
The Farm & Garden Level offers a picturesque landscape that serves as backdrop in photos taken by guests. You’ll love the fog obscuring the green mountains, the cottage in the middle of the pond, and the chilly breeze hugging the surroundings.
The place also has an eco-trail, but we didn’t explore it, as it was a rainy morning. We focused on the galleries instead.
|An antique Ifugao dining set|
The place will open your eyes and mind to the Cordilleran culture and tradition. Describing it as a rich and wonderful learning experience is an understatement.
Ever since I came back to Manila in 2016, I had been wanting to explore the National Museum and see for myself Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, the largest painting in the Philippines.
It had been sitting in my bucket list for 6 months this year until finally, on June 24, I officially accomplished the mission.
Before heading out to the National Museum of Fine Arts, though, I wandered inside the Museum of the Filipino People where thousands of artifacts are in exhibit.
There’s a gallery of artifacts found in the shipwreck of San Diego, a battleship that sank off Manila Bay in 1600 when it clashed with the Dutch ship, Mauritius.
Excavated from the wreck were navigational tools, helmets and sword hilts used by Spanish soldiers, cannons, treasures composed of items made of gold, an ivory rosary, blue-and-white porcelain plates and ewers, and jars that were used to carry drinking water, preserved fruits, salted meat, sardines, wine, and vinegar.
The artifact that fascinated me the most, though, wasn’t found in the San Diego shipwreck. It was the manunggul jar excavated from Manunggul Cave in Palawan. The secondary burial jar, which is a National Treasure of the Philippines, dates back to 890-710 B.C. On top of the lid is a boat with two human figures representing the souls journeying to the afterlife. The figure behind the boatman has arms crossed over the chest, a traditional Filipino practice when arranging a corpse.
On Level 4, you’ll find the Baybayin Gallery where artifacts containing ancient and traditional scripts of the Philippines are in exhibit.
|Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, 1884|
Moving on to the highlight of my tour, I couldn’t help feeling emotional the moment I saw Spoliarium at the lobby of the National Museum’s main gallery. Measuring 4.22 meters in height and 7.675 meters in length, the historical painting depicting Roman soldiers dragging the bodies of dead gladiators in the basement of the Colosseum was created by Juan Luna in 1884. It was his entry to the prestigious Exposicion de Bellas Artes (Madrid Art Exposition) that won for him the gold medal.
As I was exploring the museum, I found the gallery containing other works of Luna and his contemporary, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.
|Made by Luna as a souvenir for Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt when Luna visited him in Austria in 1899, Bandera Filipina (watercolor on paper) is his last known dated work.|
|Luna’s self portrait. Charcoal on paper.|
|Portrait of Laureana Novicio y Ancheta with the dedication, “To my mother” by Luna. Oil on canvas, 1897.|
|Portrait of a Lady|
|Luna’s Una Bulaqueña|
I wanted to explore more galleries and read every description accompanying the items on display, but it was closing time. Remember to dedicate a full day at the museum if you want to do a personal research. Studying the details of the artifacts and artworks takes a lot of time.
Although, you can go back to the National Museum anytime you want, as entrance is FREE. So to all Filipinos out there, take advantage of the free entrance and reserve a slot for it in your bucket list. It’s the best refresher on the country’s history and culture, whether or not you need it.
|Portrait of Dr. Jose Rizal by Zosimo Dimaano|
|Rizal’s copy of De La Imitacion de Cristo with a dedication penned by the National Hero himself. It says, “To my dear and unhappy wife Josephine.”|
|Onyang Dapitana by Rizal. Plaster of Paris, 1894.|
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