Juan Luna y Novicio (b. October 23, 1857 – d. December 7, 1899) was one of the great heroes of the Philippine Revolution and one of the first internationally-recognized Philippine painters. A native of Badoc, Ilocos Norte, Juan Luna was the third among the seven children of Joaquin Luna de San Pedro y Posada and Laureana Novicio y Ancheta. Both parents were from families that were well-off, thus each brought to the family a modest fortune.
In 1861, the Luna family left the north for Manila, believing that in this progressive city their children would receive a good education. Juan Luna was sent to Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree (equivalent to the present-day high school diploma). His parents seemed to have envisioned him entering an ecclesiastical career; however, Juan had shown early interest in painting and drawing, influenced by his brother, Manuel, who, according to Jose Rizal, was a better painter than Juan himself.
Luna later enrolled at Escuela Nautica (Academia Naval) and became a sailor. With Manuel, he sailed the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and saw the picturesque views and scenic places in Hongkong, Amoy, Singapore, Batavia, and Colombo. Nevertheless, Luna's passion for the arts continued. Whenever he was anchored in Manila Bay, he took drawing lessons under the illustrious painting teacher of Ermita, Manila, Lorenzo Guerrero. He also enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts (Academia de Dibujo y Pintura) in Manila where he was influenced and taught how to draw by the Spanish artist Agustin Saez. Unfortunately, Luna's vigorous brush strokes displeased the maestro, and this probably was the reason why Luna was discharged from the Academia. However, Guerrero was impressed by his skill and urged Luna's parents to send him to Spain for further study.
In the last quarter of 1877, with his brother Manuel, Juan Luna sailed to Europe, where Manuel was to study music and Juan painting. Juan entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he met the taciturn painter Don Alejo Vera. Luna was discontented with the style of teaching in school and decided that it would be much better to apprentice with Vera--and so he did. Vera brought him to Rome for some of his commissions, and there Luna was exposed to the art of the Renaissance masters. It was in 1878 when his artistic urge was awakened with the opening of the first art exposition in Madrid--the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. From then on, Luna became engrossed in painting and produced a collection that he exhibited in the 1881 Exposition.
His La Muerta de Cleopatra won him a silver medal (2nd class) in this Exposition. Luna's growing reputation as an artist led to a pensionado scholarship at 600 pesos annually for a period of four years through the Ayuntamiento of Manila. But there was a condition, which was that he was obliged to create a painting which captured the essence of Philippine history which would then become the Ayuntamiento's property.
As an artist
Probably it was in 1883 when Luna started the painting demanded of him by the Ayuntamiento. But it was some years before he would complete it. In May 1884, he shipped the large canvas of the Spoliarium to Madrid for the year's Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. There, he was the first recipient of the three gold medals awarded in the concourse. Luna's triumph in this exposition heightened the spirit of the Filipino community in Madrid, and Luna gained recognition among the connoisseurs and art critics present. On 25 June 1884, the Filipinos organized an event celebrating the victorious Luna, attended by about seventy people, Filipinos and Spaniards alike. That night, Jose Rizal prepared a speech for his friend, stressing two significant things: (1) the glorification of genius; and (2) the grandeur of the fatherland.
Luna developed a friendly relationship with the King of Spain and was later commissioned by the Spanish Senate to undertake a large canvas, the La Batalla de Lepanto, which greatly challenged him. He moved to Paris in 1885 and opened his own studio at No. 65 Boulevard Arago, near that of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. A year after, he finished the piece El Pacto de Sangre in accordance with the agreement he had with the Ayuntamiento of Manila. Depicted in this piece was the blood compact ceremony between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. It now adorns the Malacañang Palace. He also sent two other paintings in addition to the one required. The second canvas sent to Manila was a portrait of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi reconstructed by Luna from his recollection of Legaspi's portrait he saw in the hall of the Cabildo and the third was of Governor Ramon Blanco.
In 1887, Luna once again traveled back to Spain to enter in that year's Exposition two of his pieces, the La Batalla de Lepanto and Rendicion de Granada, which both won. He celebrated his triumph with his Filipino friends in Madrid, and Graciano Lopez-Jaena delivered a speech for him.
Luna's paintings are generally described as being vigorous and dramatic. With its elements of Romanticism, his style shows the influence of Delacroix, Rembrandt, and Daumier.
On December 8, 1886, Luna married Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, sister of his comrades Felix and Trinidad Hermenegildo Pardo de Tavera. The couple went on a honeymoon in Venice and Rome and settled in Paris. They had one son, whom they named Andres, and a daughter who died in infancy. Luna was fond of painting his wife. Unfortunately, an occurrence tragically ended their married life. The jealous Luna frequently accused Paz of having an illicit affair with a certain Monsieur Dussaq. Finally, in a fit of jealousy, he killed his wife and mother-in-law and wounded his brother-in-law, Felix, on 23 September 1892. He was arrested and murder charges were filed against him. On 8 February 1893 he was acquitted. Luna was ordered to pay the Pardo de Taveras a sum of one thousand six hundred fifty-one francs and eighty-three cents, and an additional twenty-five francs for postage in addition to the interest of damages. After his acquittal Luna, with his brother Antonio and his son Andres, left Paris for Madrid.
In 1891 Luna moved back to Manila. He went on a trip to Japan in 1896, returning in time for the Cry of Balintawak. Unfortunately, on 16 September 1896 he and his brother Antonio Luna were arrested by the Spanish authorities and were accused of organizing a revolution with the Katipunan secret society. Despite his imprisonment, Luna was still able to produce a work of art, Exce Homo, which he gave to Father Rossell upon the priest's visit. When he was pardoned by the Spanish monarchy on 27 May 1897 and released from prison, he immediately went to Europe. In 1898, he was appointed by the executive board of the Philippine revolutionary government as member of the Paris delegation which was working for the diplomatic recognition of the Philippine Republic. On 10 December 1899, upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Luna was named a member of the delegation to Washington to press for the recognition of the Philippine government.
His sentiments for the Philippines and the Filipinos made him decide to travel back to the Philippines in December 1899. He passed through India, Java, Sumatra, China, and Japan. Upon hearing of the death of his brother Antonio, he went to Hong Kong at once. While there, on 7 December 1899, Juan Luna suffered a severe heart attack and died. His remains were buried in Hong Kong and in 1920 were exhumed and kept in Andres Luna's house, to be later transferred to a niche at the Crypt Chapel of San Agustin.
- López Jaena, Graciano. "Juan Luna y Novicio: A biography." In Graciano López Jaena: Speeches, articles and letters, translated and annotated by Encarnación Alzona, edited and with additional annotations by Teodoro A. Agoncillo. Manila, Philippines: National Historical Institute, 1994. Pp. 167-178.
- Manuel, Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biography, Volume II. Manila: Regal Printing Company, 1970.
- Ocampo, Ambeth R. “Juan Luna's Works.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 October 2007.
- Sevilla, Jose N. Sa Langit ng Bayang Pilipinas. Mga Dakilang Pilpino o Ang Kaibigan ng mga Nag-aaral. Manila: Limbagan nina Sevilla at mga kapatid at Kn., 1922.
- Juan Luna: Great Filipino Painter. (accessed on October 26, 2007).
- Lopez Memorial Museum. (accessed on 27 October 2007).