Museum Artifacts and Art Pieces You Shouldn't Miss at the National Museum

Museum Artifacts and Art Pieces You Shouldn't Miss at the National Museum

Museum Artifacts and Art Pieces You Shouldn't Miss at the National Museum

On May 18, 2018, in time for the celebration of International Museum Day, the National Museum will open its newest building, the National Museum of Natural History. Formerly the Tourism Department Building, the Museum of Natural History houses the flora and fauna collection of the Museum.

There are whole lot of interesting and mind blowing items in the museum. In case you’re planning your first visit, here are 6 museum artifacts and art pieces you shouldn't miss at the National Museum of the Philippines.

National Museum of Anthropology:

1. Oton Gold Death Mask

Image Source:  National Museum

Image Source: National Museum

This fascinating artifact is dated between 14th to early 15 Century and was found in Oton Iloilo. The same kinds of artifact were also found in Masao, Butuan and in Agusan. This gold death mask were used by Proto-Filipinos (or the inhabitants of the Islands during pre-hispanic period) to adorn and cover the eyes, nose and mouth of the dead. According to the National Museum, these burial practices are shared with the inhabitants of Southern China. It is believed that the gold death mask could drive off evil spirits from entering the body of the dead.


2. Manunggol Jar

Image Source:  National Museum

Image Source: National Museum


This secondary burial is dated around 710 BC and was found in the 1960s in one of the chambers of the Tabon cave in Palawan--where the skullcap of the Tabon man (which is actually a woman) was also found. It is unique for its intricate design: the upper portion includes curvilinear design and the jar lid features a boatman stirring a vessel and a passenger sits in front of him with hands crossed over his chest (traditional corpse position).

The design speaks of the cultural link of the Filipinos to our Austronesian-speaking ancestors or the seafaring ancestors of modern-day Filipinos,  as well as the Malaysians, Indonesians, Malagasy (people of Madagascar) and even Moana, the Disney Princess of the 2016 animated film.

The lid’s design tells of the Austronesian beliefs that the soul of the dead goes to the afterlife aboard boats going to the sea. Moreover, the carved design of the prow and eye motif of the boat is a common design among seafaring communities of Sulu, Borneo and Malaysia. And the facial features of the lid design shares commonalities with potteries found in Taiwan, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

3. Calatagan Pot

Image Source:  The PCIJ Blog

Image Source: The PCIJ Blog

Another earthenware in this ist, Calatagan pot is also a national treasure for the Filipino people. As the name suggests, it was found in Calatagan Batangas, and is dated around 14th to 16th Century. This earthenware is modest in design, however this is a rare find because of the inscriptions around the mouth of the jar.

It is written in an old and bygone script that resembles Surat Mangyan and Surat Tagbanuwa. The meaning of the script has remained an enigma in the academic community as many experts tried to decipher the inscriptions but none of them arrived with a plausible meaning. Later on, Ramon Guillermo an expert in Philippine Studies came in the scene. He did his own research and applied new methods of deciphering the inscriptions.

According to him, the inscription is a poetry that may have been written as a memoriam to a loved one. The transliteration and meaning is as follows:

Ina bisa kata Sinikap sabihin ni ina
Guna kita payaba Para sa iyo mahal kong anak
Dulang saya kau kain Kumain ka sa aking dulang
Dada yang ‘ni manogi Dibdib ko ‘tong mabango
Kita sana mabasah Doon ika’y mabasa
Bagai ke bunga Tulad ng bulaklak


4. Maitum Jar

Image Source:  National Museum

Image Source: National Museum

This is an anthropomorphic earthenware found in Ayub cave, Maitum, Saranggani Province. This is dated around 5 B.C - 225 A.D--few centuries younger than the Manunggul Jar. There were 29 jars found in this cave, all resembling human figures. The faces of the jars were also unique and feature various facial expressions e.g sadness, contentment and joy. Others were adorned with earrings and tattoos which might suggest that the burials depict the appearances of the bodies inside them. Of the 29 jars,  no. 21 is the most popular and well documented jar. It is unique for having a head-shaped lid with ears, arms, navel, nipples and the male genitalia.

5. The Parisian Life

Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

While it is the lesser popular painting by Juan Luna, the Parisian Life is nothing short of beauty and historical significance. It was painted in 1892 in Paris and features a French lady uncomfortably seated on a couch at a table with half-empty beer mug and at the far left are three gentlemen in top hat, one of them looking intently at her.

There are two popular interpretation of the painting. The first one tells the catharsis of Juan Luna when he painted this work out of jealousy to his wife. The three men at the far corner are Juan Luna and his friends Jose Rizal & Ariston Bautista Lin looking at the lady who is portrayed as Paz Pardo de Tavera, the wife of Luna. In the painting Luna is looking at his wife while telling his friends that he suspects his wife has a lover. This sounds plausible since the painting was done in the year when Luna also shot his wife out of intense jealousy.

The other interpretation is more nationalistic:   Luna tries to show that the Philippines (the lady) is in a disturbed state while the three of them are discussing about how to help the deplorable  conditions of the motherland. Interestingly, the lady's figure resembles the mirror image of the Philippine Map.

6. The Spoliarium Facing El Asesinato del Gov. Bustamante

Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Every visitor of the National Museum of Fine Arts is welcomed by the tremendous painting of Juan Luna, the Spoliarium and of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, the El Asesinato. These are two of the greatest paintings ever done by a Filipino. Both are huge in size, as well as in its meanings.

The Spoliarium is the largest Painting in the Philippines so far, it measures 13.8 feet high by 25.1 feet wide. One might wonder how it was shipped from Spain to the Philippines. The truth is, it was divided into several panels and was reassembled back together by expert conservationists when it arrived in Manila. Also, just imagine how big, Juan Luna’s studio was when he painted it in Madrid. So much for its humongous size, this painting is a celebration of Filipino’s ingenuity and talent back in the day when the indios were oppressed by the colonizers.

Image Source:  Happymeowss

Image Source: Happymeowss

Hidalgo’s El Asesinato on the other hand, merits great recognition also. It depicts the assassination of Governor General Fernando Bustamante by a mob of friars in 1719. An assassination by the clergy in the Philippines was a controversial subject to be painted back then. As such, the painting is iconoclastic in such respect and was only exhibited in the US (not in Spain) in 1905.

The two paintings facing each other depicts the violent years of the colonial period of the Philippines. And their huge sizes may have meant how the Filipinos overcome them with nationalistic pride.

There are so much to be said about these museum artifacts and art pieces. And there are whole lot of other interesting and beautiful items that you can find in the Museum. So pay a visit, if you don’t want to miss these national pride of the Filipinos.

National Museum of the Philippines
Padre Burgos Ave. Ermita, Manila
Tuesdays to Sundays 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

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Selected Sources:

Guillermo, Ramon G. (2008). Ina Bisa Kata: An Experimental Decipherment of the Calatagan Pot

Inscription. Manuscript, University of the Philippines, Diliman