Culture Art

This whole thing about the Spoliarium is like the Spoliarium itself

Just as the controversial study of what is deemed to be Juan Luna’s greatest painting goes to auction, a new boceto emerges out of nowhere. But what does all this drama really mean? 
Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta | Sep 21 2018

In what might be the auction to end all local auctions—at least this year—the Spoliarium boceto will finally be sent off at the Well-Appointed Life event tomorrow. Whether it’s to a cultural haven or a private collector’s foyer remains to be seen. In the meantime, there’s a dead gladiator being dragged across the floor, and we watch the spectacle, like oglers in the painting, to see what else we can take from him—did we miss a detail somewhere, where is his shield, his dagger, and his plumed helmet? Isn’t there something else on his person that might be worth something when we dangle it before the greasy merchant in the marketplace?

Just when we think we can rest easy, something new turns up—whether it’s a new story about provenance, a new specialist giving his ten cents on its authenticity, or a new boceto—which, like an act of God, mysteriously turned up today. Mr. Pacifico “Pico” Gonzales Jr. has just presented a new study of the Luna painting. Unlike the one that’s been contentiously dangled in front of us this past month, this boceto comes with a clear provenance. The seller has been named and not mysteriously kept from us—one Joaquin Carbonell Arnau, who bought it from a wealthy family in Spain, and who in turn conveyed it to Mr. Gonzales. Gonzales is also willing to have this piece scrutinized and tested, unlike the boceto we’ve only perused from a polite distance at a number of vernissages.

The study that came out the day before the Salcedo Auctions.

Does this new boceto invalidate the one being auctioned off tomorrow? Not necessarily, but it puts to question why the first boceto has been shrouded in so much mystery. Here’s Gonzales who offers us proof, without the coyness of an auction house we’re all, by now, very familiar with.

For the past couple of weeks, it feels like we’ve been beating a dead horse—is it authentic, we ask ourselves, how much will it fetch at the auction? The nationalists among us question what real significance it brings to our history and to our nation—I mean, the real thing is in the National Museum. The director himself won’t bid for the boceto seeing as the true treasure already hangs in a permanent public exhibit.

But something has to be said about the way we’ve thrilled to any news pertaining to our cultural property, whether official or unofficial. It’s as if we’ve discovered the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, or a fragment of a torn cedula. History is still at play, and we’re very much its rapt audience just like the crowd in the Colosseum.  

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