The long-lost painting, last seen at the iconic Universal Exposition in Paris, is now available for public viewing at the Ayala Museum.
In time for the 125th celebration of Philippine Independence and Nationhood, the Ayala Museum unveiled Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece “Hymen, oh Hyménée!”. Considered the “holy grail” of Philippine art, the painting was last seen in Paris 132 years ago—and has been finally tracked down and brought home for the first time.
Serving as the centerpiece of Ayala Museum’s newest exhibition, Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero, the masterpiece has been mounted in cooperation with León Gallery. The profound embodiment of the intricate imagery derived from a Roman wedding feast earned Hymen, oh Hyménée! a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
What Happened to Juan Luna’s Hymen, oh Hyménée!?
In fear of being destroyed during the revolution, Hymen, oh Hyménée! became part of Juan Luna’s personal collection. The painting was never intended to be submitted for competition or as a commissioned work. Compared to the much-acclaimed Spoliarium—which won a gold medal at the 1884 Exposición Nacional del Bellas Artes in Madrid—the recently recovered masterpiece tells a gentler story, visualized through marble white and bold red hues.
Unfortunately, the painting went missing for more than a century after Juan Luna died in 1899. Its whereabouts became unknown until it was discovered by an “aristocratic family” in Europe. Hymen, oh Hyménée! was then sold to the art collector and León Gallery founder and director Jaime Ponce de Leon in 2014.
Since then, Hymen, oh Hyménée! was kept safe in the storeroom until it found its new home at the Ayala Museum in 2022. This year, the Ayala Museum transformed its space into a Western-mansion-themed exhibit, as designed by scenographer Gino Gonzales.
Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero is a definite feast of the senses, where the entire space is bathed in subdued lighting, complemented by the enchanting melodies that softly fill the background, enhancing the overall experience. The exhibit also features a catalog with essays written by historian Ambeth R. Ocampo, film director Martin Arnaldo, and curators Ditas Samson, Tenten Mina, and Jei Ente. There’s also Martin Arnaldo’s documentary that delves into the journey of restoring the artwork while also exploring the poignant narrative of the late 19th-century Filipino diaspora from the perspective of Juan Luna.
Whether you are an art aficionado, a history buff, or simply want to expose yourself to the Philippine arts, seize this incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in the brilliance and artistic mastery of Filipinos. Don’t miss out on Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero, an exhibition that is available until December 30, 2023. See you!