A genius of the brush and a patriot of the highest order. Creator of the world-famous painting, SPOLARIUM, which was awarded the gold medal in the Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884. It is also known as the greatest painting of all times. Born in Badoc, Ilocos, Norte, on October 23, 1857. He was closely associated with the Reform Movement, together with Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, Ponce, etc. He died in Hongkong on December 7, 1899.
Born in the town of Badoc, Ilocos Norte in the northern Philippines, Luna was the third among the seven children of Don Joaquin Luna de San Pedro y Posada and Doña Laureana Novicio y Ancheta. In 1861, the Luna family moved to Manila and he went to Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree. He excelled in painting and drawing, and was influenced by his brother, Manuel Luna, who, according to Filipino patriot José Rizal, was a better painter than Juan himself.
Luna enrolled at Escuela Nautica (Academia Naval) and became a sailor. He took drawing lessons under the illustrious painting teacher Lorenzo Guerrero of Ermita, Manila. 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 his teacher and Luna was discharged from the Academy. However, Guerrero was impressed by his skill and urged Luna to travel to Spain to further pursue his studies.
In 1877 Manuel and Juan Luna traveled to Europe, where Manuel studied music and Juan painting. Juan entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he befriended the painter Don Alejo Vera. Luna was discontented with the style of teaching in school and decided that it would be much better to work with Vera. Vera brought him to Rome for some of his commissions, and Luna was exposed to the art of the Renaissance painters. It was in 1878 when his artistic talents was established with the opening of the first art exposition in Madrid which was called the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Demonstration of Beautiful Arts). From then on, Luna became engrossed in painting and produced a collection of paintings that he exhibited in the 1881 Exposition.
His La Muerta de Cleopatra (The Death of Cleopatra) won him a silver medal and came in second place. Luna’s growing reputation as an artist led to a pensionado (pension) scholarship at 600 pesos annually through the Ayuntamiento of Manila. The condition was that he was obliged to develop a painting which captured the essence of Philippine history which would then become the Ayuntamiento’s property.
In 1883 Luna started the painting demanded of him by the Ayuntamiento. In May 1884, he shipped the large canvas of the Spoliarium to Madrid for the year’s Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes. He was the first recipient of the three gold medals awarded in the exhibition and Luna gained recognition among the connoisseurs and art critics present. On June 25, 1884, Filipino and Spanish nobles organized an event celebrating Luna’s win in the exhibition. That evening, Rizal prepared a speech for his friend, addressing the two significant things of his art work, which included the glorification of genius and the grandeur of his artistic skills.
Luna developed a friendly relationship with the King of Spain and was later commissioned by the Spanish Senate to paint a large canvas which was called the La Batalla de Lepanto (The Battle of Lepanto). He moved to Paris in 1885 where he opened his own studio and befriended Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. A year after, he finished the piece El Pacto de Sangre (The Blood Compact) in accordance with the agreement he had with the Ayuntamiento of Manila. Depicted in this piece was the blood compact ceremony between the native chieftain Datu Sikatuna and the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi. It is displayed in 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 López de Legazpi reconstructed by Luna from his recollection of López de Legazpi’s portrait he saw in the hall of the Cabildo, and the third was of Governor-general Ramón Blanco y Erenas.
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 Rendición de Granada (Surrender of Granada), which both won in the exhibition. He celebrated his triumph with his friends in Madrid with Graciano Lopez-Jaena delivered Luna a congratulatory speech. 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 a sister of his friend Felix and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. The couple traveled to Venice and Rome and settled in Paris. They had one son, whom they named Andrés, 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 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 September 23, 1892. He was arrested and murder charges were filed against him.
Luna was acquitted of charges on February 8, 1893. He 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. Five days later, Luna went to Madrid with his brother, Antonio Luna, and his son, Andrés.
 Final years
In 1891 Luna moved back to the Philippines and traveled to Japan in 1896, returning during the Philippine Revolution of the Cry of Balintawak. Unfortunately, on September 16, 1896, he and his brother Antonio Luna were arrested by Spanish authorities for being involved with the Katipunan rebel army. Despite his imprisonment, Luna was still able to produce a work of art which he gave to a priest’s visit. He was pardoned by the Spanish courts on May 27, 1897 and was released from prison and he traveled back to Spain. In 1898, he was appointed by the executive board of the Philippine revolutionary government as a member of the Paris delegation which was working for the diplomatic recognition of the República Filipina (Philippine Republic). In 1899, upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898), Luna was named a member of the delegation to Washington to press for the recognition of the Philippine government.
He traveled back to the Philippines in December 1899 upon hearing of the death of his brother Antonio who was in Hong Kong in exile. On December 7, 1899, Luna suffered a heart attack and died there. His remains were buried in Hong Kong and in 1920 were exhumed and kept in Andrés Luna’s house, to be later transferred to a niche at the Crypt Chapel of San Agustin in the Philippines. Five years later, Juan would be reinstated as a world renowned artist and Peuple et Rois, his last major work, was acclaimed the best entry to the Universal Exposition of St. Louis in the United States. Unfortunately some of his paintings were destroyed by fire in World War II.
 See also
- 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, José 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.