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Juan Luna's long-lost masterpiece revealed after 132 years

By Harold Lemon Tubiano Published Jun 11, 2023 10:42 am

Juan Luna's long-lost painting Hymen, oh Hyménée! has been unveiled in the Philippines for the first time ever.

Considered the "holy grail" of Philippine art, the artwork will serve as the centerpiece of Ayala Museum's new exhibition Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero, which has been mounted with the cooperation of León Gallery. It was last seen on display at the iconic Universal Exposition in Paris around 132 years ago.

The painting, which won a bronze medal at the prestigious Exposition Universelle of 1889, is not just an ordinary piece of work but a symbol of complex imagery inspired by a Roman wedding feast. 

It went missing for more than a century after Luna's death in 1899. The masterpiece was later discovered by an “aristocratic family” in Europe, who eventually sold the painting to art collector and León Gallery owner Jaime Ponce de Leon in 2014.

Hymen, oh Hyménée! will be on public display on June 12 in time for the commemoration of the 125th Anniversary of Philippine Independence and Nationhood in 2023.

Admission to the Ayala Museum will be free for museumgoers on Independence Day, but rates will apply thereafter.

Juan Luna was a painter, sculptor, and revolutionary activist in the Philippines. Aside from Hymen, oh Hyménée!, his renowned paintings include The Spoliarium (1884), The Blood Compact (1886), and The Parisian Life (1892), among others. 

His artistry has brought timeless significance to the country. Quoting historian Ambeth R. Ocampo, Ph.D., his brilliance "produced a groundswell of pride in (his) countrymen that resonates to our times with Lea Salonga’s triumph on the West End and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s conquest of World Boxing and last but not the least, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz bringing home the first Olympic Gold to a proud and grateful nation.”