via Inquirer – MANILA, Philippines — Twenty-eight oil paintings by a Filipino artist depict key scenes in Jose Rizalâ€™s â€œNoli Me Tangere,â€ the first time that the novel has been so extensively celebrated in oil on canvas.
Although Juan Luna did illustrations for the â€œNoliâ€ as a gift to Rizal, these were never published with the novel.
The series by painter Leonardo Cruz was launched recently and is on view at the Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, in time for the celebration of the 146th birth anniversary of the national hero on Tuesday.
The painting series by Cruz shows that 120 years after its publication, the â€œNoliâ€ continues to hold sway in the popular imagination and remains an intriguing subject to be mined in popular culture by artists and thinkers.
Only recently, Penguin Books published a new translation of â€œNoli Me Tangereâ€ as part of its exclusive Penguin Classics line, effectively canonizing the work as one of the classics of world literature.
Penguin Classics bills the â€œNoliâ€ as â€œthe book that sparked the Philippine revolutionâ€ and â€œthe great novel of the Philippines.â€
Cruz, 74, said he had long dreamed of rendering in oil paintings some key scenes of the â€œNoliâ€ and got the chance to do so only in the last several years after retiring from advertising and going into art full time.
He said his interest in Rizalâ€™s novel started when he was a young boy. As a young man, he would visualize scenes from the book â€œas if they actually happened yesterdayâ€ and as if he were an eyewitness to the events.
First published in Berlin in 1887, â€œNoli Me Tangereâ€ tells the story of Crisostomo Ibarra, who returns from his European studies to find his old town in the grip of social inequity and decay. His efforts to introduce enlightenment and modernism are defeated at every turn by the Spanish colonial establishment as represented by abusive civil and military officials and obscurantist friars.
Because of its scathing portrayal of Spanish colonial depredations, the book was banned in the Philippines, but copies were smuggled into the country for clandestine reading by educated Filipinos.
The â€œNoli,â€ along with its dark sequel, â€œEl Filibusterismo,â€ which tells of the return of Ibarra as an avenging angel a la â€œThe Count of Monte Cristo,â€ became the bible of the Philippine revolution against Spain in 1896.
Although Rizal denied any involvement in the revolution, his name became the password of the Filipino revolutionaries, and he was executed by the Spanish authorities on Dec. 30, 1896.
Blood from the heart
Cruz said he did the paintings because he shared the feeling of Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizalâ€™s German friend, who wrote the fictionist when the novel was published in 1887: â€œYour work, as we Germans say, was written with blood from the heart, and because of that, the heart also speaks.â€
Cruz added that he took to heart Rizalâ€™s explanation why he wrote the â€œNoliâ€ in his letter to the painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo:
â€œI have endeavored to answer the calumnies which for centuries had been heaped on us and out country; I have described our social condition, our life, our beliefs, our desires, our grievances, our griefs; I have unmasked hypocrisy which, under the guise of religion, came to impoverish and brutalize us â€¦ I have raised the curtain to show what is behind the deceitful, glittering words of our government; I have told our countrymen our defects, our â€¦ cowardly complaisances with our miseries.â€
Tagged by art writers as a â€œclassical impressionist,â€ Cruz said he had sought to recreate the rhythm of life and death in a typical rural town in the Philippines in the late 19th century, or â€œSan Diego,â€ the fictitious town that is the setting of Rizalâ€™s novel.
Because Cruzâ€™s style runs along both classicist and impressionist veins, the paintings gravitate between vividness and moodiness. The figures are well delineated but cast in a bath of light, with chiaroscuro studies in some.
And perhaps because Cruz had a background in comics drawing (when he was younger, he did illustrations for Bulaklak and Ramon Roces Publications and later, for Pendulum Publishing in Orange, California), the paintings have a comics-style friendliness –dramatically composed, dynamic, and nearly literal in their renditions.
Time will tell whether the paintings would give tribute to Rizal and his novel the way the drawings of Sandro Botticelli and Gustav Dore have done for Danteâ€™s â€œDivine Comedyâ€ and Coleridgeâ€™s â€œRime of the Ancient Mariner.â€