Rizal collectibles up for auction on his birthday month 2
These San Jose y Niño Jesus and La Inmaculada Concepcion are among the treasures to be auctioned in the Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2023 happening June 17. Images courtesy of Leon Gallery

Ivory ‘santos’ from the collection of Rizal good friend Maximo Viola lead highlights of Leon auction

Viola, considered ‘the man who saved the Noli,’ was also an artist and enthusiastic collector
Adrian Maranan | Jun 04 2023

June has always been an important month for the country. It’s when we celebrate Philippine Independence Day and this year we mark its 125th anniversary. We are also commemorating the 162nd birth anniversary of Jose Rizal on June 19. So in keeping with the fervor of patriotism this month, premier auction house Leon Gallery is offering a selection of treasures with profound ties to the national hero and our collective history and identity in the upcoming Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2023 happening June 17, Saturday, 2 PM. 

Bagumbayan by Emmanuel Garibay
Lot 81 Bagumbayan by Emmanuel Garibay. Signed and dated 2010 (lower right). Acrylic on handmade paper. 23 1/4" x 18 1/2" (59 cm x 47 cm)

To start with, ivory santos from the collection of Don Maximo Viola, "the man who rescued the Noli Me Tangere," are up for bids. Don Maximo was a good friend to Rizal (they were medical colleagues in Spain) and was eventually involved in the Propaganda Movement. The social historian Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III in the current Leon catalogue says that Don Maximo descended from two wealthy hacendero clans: the Violas of San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan, and the Sisons of Lingayen, Pangasinan, both the most landed families in their respective towns. 

Viola and Rizal's friendship would be further strengthened because of the former's generous assistance to the publication of the latter's seminal novel Noli Me Tangere, which would become instrumental in our fight for independence during the late 19th century. 

Dakila by Emmanuel Garibay
Lot 82 Dakila by Emmanuel Garibay. Signed and dated 2012 (lower right). Oil on canvas. 48" x 48" (122 cm x 122 cm)

According to Gonzalez III, "Rizal frequently suffered from a lack of funds in Europe. There were no fast and efficient modes of cash remittances then, not even with the international banks. Most relied on padala (hand-carry) care of visiting family and friends from Manila. Because of this, Rizal became despondent about the publication of his novel Noli Me Tangere and thought of destroying it once and for all. The affluent Viola intervened and provided the funds for the publishing of the first 2,000 copies. In gratitude to his good friend, Rizal presented Viola with the galley proof and the first printed copy of his controversial but nationalistic novel."

Lot 139 Calvario Binondo, Manila and San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan. 1890s. Ivory, silver, velvet, silvergilt threads, baticuling wood, glass, enamels

But aside from his patriotic pursuits, Viola was also an artist and enthusiastic collector. Gonzales III notes, "Viola's patrician high taste and style, in the many beautiful objects and furniture he designed and created or commissioned from the finest artisans of the day, among them the highly original escultor Isabelo Tampinco y Lacandola, garnered for him a rightful significance in Filipino culture." Three of Viola's exquisite 19th-century ivory santos from his personal collection are on offer at Leon's mid-year sale.

Don Maximo Viola
Don Maximo Viola

Historically essential publications from the 19th century are also going under the hammer. A first edition copy of Rizal's annotations to Antonio de Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, in its mint condition, is a must-have for Filipiniana collectors. Rizal began to work on his annotations to the Sucesos at London's British Library, where he copied Morga's magnum opus by hand. Published in Paris in 1890 and with a prologue written by Rizal's close friend, Professor Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal's "first history book" is "the best work of research from the pen of the Calamba hero," as Spanish academic and specialist on Philippine colonial literature Dr. Jorge R. Mojarro puts it. 

Rizal's annotated "Sucesos" marks a crucial turning point in the formation of the Filipino nation. With this work, Rizal ignites the fire of reclaiming and asserting our collective identity, debunking prejudices by the Spanish colonialists and chroniclers against the Filipinos' way of living and reintroducing positive aspects and attributes of the pre-colonial natives. 

Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas by Antonio de Morga
Lot 144 Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas by Antonio de Morga. Annotated by José Rizal. Libreria de Garnier Hermanos, Paris, 1890. First Edition

"What must have caught his attention was Chapter VIII," writes Dr. Mojarro in the Leon catalog, "which contains a detailed description of Philippine cultures, nature, richness of resources, and geography during the early days of contact with the Spaniards, a description in which the natives are consistently delineated in positive terms. For example: ‘The people who inhabit this great island of Luzon [...] are medium in body, of a baked quince color, well built, both men and women, very black hair, little beard, good wits for whatever they put their minds to, sharp and choleric, and of good determination. They all live by their farms, labors and fishing and contracting, sailing from one island to another by sea, and from one province to another by land.’”

Dr. Mojarro notes that "the juiciest part of this edition are, of course, Rizal's footnotes, which intervene frequently to contradict Morga, to explain etymologies, to deepen the understanding of matters that would not be clear enough, or even, to emphasize that certain customs were still maintained in his time, and to confront Morga's opinions with his own or with those of the Jesuit chroniclers Pedro Chirino and Francisco Colín, or the guide of the Franciscans, Buzeta and Bravo."

Photograph of Jose Rizal in London. Image courtesy of Presidential Museum and Library PH.
Photograph of Jose Rizal in London. Image courtesy of Presidential Museum and Library PH.

Dr. Mojarro continues: “If Morga, for example, pointed out the tendency of the natives to get drunk easily, Rizal intervenes to comment that it is a custom that fortunately was no longer familiar."

"In this sense, Rizal's edition of Morga constitutes a very personal work, in which his love for the Filipino people sometimes makes him lose his philological and historical objectivity, as his friend and colleague Ferdinand Blumentritt delicately reproached him in the introduction — which Rizal, with his characteristic spirit of chivalry and loyalty to his friend, included without censure.”

El Katipunan o el Filibusterismo en Filipinas: Cronica ilustrada con documentos, autografos y fotograbados
Lot 145 El Katipunan o el Filibusterismo en Filipinas: Cronica ilustrada con documentos, autografos y fotograbados by Jose M. Del Castillo y Jimenez. Asilo del Huerfanos del S.C. de Jesus, Madrid, 1897 leatherbound, 396 pages

Since the beginnings of the Katipunan—which was co-founded by Andres Bonifacio together with Deodato Arellano, Valentin Diaz, Ladislao Diwa, Jose Dizon, and Teodoro Plata—and the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in 1896, Rizal had been the inspiration for the lionhearted Katipuneros in their end goal of absolute separation from Spain. As such, a rare copy, in mint condition, of Jose Maria del Castillo y Jimenez's "El Katipunan o el Filibusterismo en Filipinas" [The Katipunan or the Subversives in the Philippines] "is an essential work for understanding the Philippine revolutionary movement for independence, especially during its first stages," Dr. Mojarro writes. The book's author “was a high official of the Spanish administration who spent many years in the Philippines. His last post was head of the Bureau of Statistics of the Manila City Hall." 

According to Dr. Mojarro, Jimenez's position in the colonial government "allowed him access to a large amount of confidential documentation and to talk to numerous people who knew those involved [in the Katipunan]." His book was published at the height of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. 

Selected pages from the El Katipunan o el Filibusterismo en Filipinas: Cronica ilustrada con documentos
Selected pages from the El Katipunan o el Filibusterismo en Filipinas: Cronica ilustrada con documentos, autografos y fotograbados showing the organization of the Katipunan and a profile of Bonifacio.

Although the book was written from a Spanish perspective, it remains "a veritable mine of data,” Dr. Mojarro says. “We are -we insist- before a very partial work, written from a decidedly colonial perspective, but, being the work a firsthand witness, the wealth of information, of so many characters depicted, of documentation and of anecdotes and events is so abundant that it becomes an indispensable source to know the preliminary phases and the beginning of the Philippine insurrection."

Finally, two paintings by eminent social realist Emmanuel "Manny" Garibay offer a feast for the nationalist soul: Bagumbayan (2010) and Dakila (2012). In Bagumbayan, Garibay presents a poignant portrait of Rizal, with "his big face depicted in a cubist manner" and possessing a "dejected look," as historian Prof. Michael Charleston "Xiao" Chua describes in the current Leon auction catalog. In Prof. Chua's interview with Garibay, the artist told him he wanted to make “the viewer feel the humanity of our heroes.” His "dejected look" was because Rizal was "too affected by the sad condition” of the country. “Who wouldn't feel dejected?"

A more complex and thought-provoking piece, Dakila depicts our nation's fathers and mothers, those who showed exemplary patriotism and valiant heroism towards fulfilling the path to liberation. Here, Rizal is portrayed again with a "dejected look." According to Chua, “this work celebrates courage, boldness, and decisiveness in leading the resistance against colonialism. And that is why Andres Bonifacio is the guy who takes the center stage." 

[The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction, co-presented by ANCX, is happening this June 17, 2023, 2 PM, at Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Preview week is from June 10 to 16, 2023, from 9 AM to 7 PM. For further inquiries, email info@leon-gallery.com or contact 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com. Follow León Gallery on their social media pages for timely updates: Facebook - www.facebook.com/leongallerymakati and Instagram @leongallerymakati.]

 Images courtesy of Leon Gallery