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The Mystery of Juan Luna’s "Cursed" Painting

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his many interests and his favorite topic.

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The Filipino people will always be thankful for the two Luna brothers, Juan and Antonio. Heroic blood runs on their blood, but they took a different path to greatness. One became a world class artist that earned the admiration of the royalties of Spain, while the other excelled in the art of war, and fought as a revolutionary leader during the Filipino-American war.

But if there is one thing that the two Lunas have in common, was their tendencies for violent outburst. The amount of temper they could unleash was the stuff of legends. And they could get particularly nasty when the women they love were involved.

Rizal knew too well how it felt to be on the receiving end of a Luna’s temper. He and Antonio Luna once fancied the same girl, a rivalry that almost turned fatal. Thanks to too much alcohol, the two was about to duel, if not for the cooler heads that intervened. Antonio himself came to his senses and made amends for his misdeeds like a man.

His brief altercation with Rizal thanks to a woman could be something to laugh at, as men today could relate on the two. Unfortunately for his brother, Juan, the result of his temper came with a tragic price. Not only that it almost ruined its career, but it also destroyed his family. And one painting was connected to this tragic event, a painting said to carry a curse of that tragic event.

Juan Luna's Troubled Love Life

Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, Luna's wife.

Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, Luna's wife.

Unlike his brother, Juan Luna managed to get himself a wife, though his life as a married man was far from perfect. Juan was 29 years old, two years after his Spoliarium won him lasting fame when he married Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, or simply Paz. They settled in Paris, where Paz bore him a son Andres, the future famed architect of the Philippines. The first two years were happy for the couple, until a certain man came in their life, named Monseiur Dussaq. Luna never liked how Paz spoke fondly of the man, and things never improved when Dussaq came for a visit.

And jealously triggered Luna’s infamous temper.

Things went sour, with Luna threatening his wife Paz of harm if she continued speaking to other men, particularly with Duzzaq. This led to domestic violence, until Paz had enough and left. Luna followed his wife upon learning that Dussaq was also staying in the house Paz escaped to. And this led to a chain of events that proved disastrous for Luna and his wife.

The Portrait of a Lady

Mi Novia painting, believed to be Luna's wife.

Mi Novia painting, believed to be Luna's wife.

Luna’s extreme jealously is a grim indication of his toxic fondness of his wife. He loved his wife so much that according to some people, he created a painting of her.

Luna was accepted as a painter at the so-called Salon de Paris, a prestigious annual exhibition in the Western world at that time. The reason for that was because of his two paintings, one is Odalisque, and the other is the somewhat ominous Mi Novia.

Mi Novia literally means My Girlfriend, also known as Portrait of a Lady, is a painting of a woman in bed, her clothes dropping and holding a rosary. A prayer book sits next to her. It evokes sensuality, and innocence, with its delicate brushstrokes that evokes emotional response from the viewer. The portrait, completed in 1890 was meant to please, and one might wonder who the woman was. There was a belief that the painting is the portrait of Paz, Luna’s wife. And with that said, people believed that the painting carries a form of curse.

Murder of Luna's Wife

Headline, detailing Luna's murder.

Headline, detailing Luna's murder.

Going back to Juan Luna’s crazed rampage on what he perceived as infidelity, he followed his wife to the place where she sought refuge. It was said that he beat her with a cane the following day. With the threats of murder looming, Paz’s mother, Juliana, called her other sons to protect her daughter. In the morning of September 22, 1892, Paz’s brothers were away for breakfast, but Juliana and Paz stumbled upon Luna holding a revolver. Gunshots were fired, and the brothers Trinidad and Felix rushed back to the house, where they were seriously wounded by Luna. And as for the mother and daughter, Luna found them in the toilet, where he shot Juliana first in the head, before turning the gun on his wife.

The crime of murder should have earned Luna a prison sentence, but surprisingly he was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity. This was the result of the law favoring men at that time, while a culture of allowing men to kill adulterous wives exist, hence granting Luna freedom.

And as for the painting, rumors and legends suggested that Luna was working on it when he murdered his wife and mother-in-law. Hence his criminal act imbued the portrayed with a form of curse that caused misfortunes to its owners. Some says that Paz’s restless ghost possesses the painting.

The Curse of the Painting

Imee Marcos, one of the reciepient of the curse.

Imee Marcos, one of the reciepient of the curse.

No one was sure how the painting ended up in Manila, the same can be said on how the story of the curse started. Nevertheless, a series of tragic events befalling on its owner convince people that the painting is indeed jinxed. Here are a few examples. First is Manuel Garcia, the first owner of the painting and a successful businessman who went bankrupt after bringing home the painting. Betty Bantung Benitez, another owner died due to car crash on her way to Tagaytay. The painting was then bought by Tony Nazareno, who suffered misfortunes and fell ill. He then sold the painting to Imee Marcos, who got a miscarriage while her family fell from political grace.

The idea of a cursed object created by a known Filipino hero might sound frightening but appealing all the same. Yet a lot of people disagree on this for an obvious reason.

But In Reality

The woman in Parisian Life resembles the one in Mi Novia.

The woman in Parisian Life resembles the one in Mi Novia.

Extra ordinary claims require extra ordinary evidence to back it up. Seeing how a pattern emerge on how the owners of Juan Luna’s painting were plagued with misfortunes, it is easy to believe the cursed story. But if we will apply this logic, then the National Museum, its home since the 1986 should have met a similar fate. But it didn’t. In fact, it is still in a good shape since it acquired the painting, I mean we should see employees dying and the building collapsing.

This simple logic seems to debunk the curse claim, as it was the people themselves who oversee their lives all along. A friend even joked that it was dumb for the Marcoses to blame their downfall on the painting, as it was them who brought the misfortunes on themselves.

Then, there us the fact that some people doubt if the woman in the painting is Paz.

They note that for one thing, Paz never resembled the woman. When compared with existing pictures of Luna’s ill-fated wife, the woman has Caucasian features, with pinkish fair skin and brownish hair. Paz on the other hand had darker skin, and facial structure that is uncannily Filipina. Some even joked that unlike the more feminine woman in Luna’s painting, Paz looks more “masculine”. And in Luna’s other artworks, such as the “Parisian Life” the woman sitting on the couch had a resemblance to the woman in Mi Novia. And the same face is also present in other of Luna’s paintings, such as La Bete Humaine.

Some historian proposed that it was made that way, as an idealized version of Luna’s wife Paz. The portrait itself is a depiction of Luna’s married life in the happier times, a representation of both marital and sensual romance.

Nevertheless, it was obviously clear that the woman in the Painting was not Paz, but one might wonder who was that enigmatic model? The answer lies in Luna’s notebooks, where he described his model as having a beautiful pinkish skin and proportioned body, his Model No. 1. And after some research, it was determined that the woman was Angela Duche, a French woman, and the favorite of Luna.

References

1. Gomez, Jerome (20 January 2017), "The Curse of Juan Luna's "Portrait of a Lady"." esquiremag.ph

2. Limos, Mario Alvaro (18 June 2019), "The Darker Life of Juan Luna: A Tale of Jealousy and Murder." esquiremag.ph

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on February 22, 2021:

Thanks bhattuc!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 21, 2021:

Nice presentation.

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