An Afternoon in the Philippine National Museum

I saw a tweet from the National Museum of the Philippines (@natmuseumph) that says that their entrance fee for this month is FREE! (oh yeah!). This is a rare opportunity so I grabbed it. I visited the museum last week.

National Museum of the Philippines


The free entrance fee was part of the Museums and Galleries Month celebration and can be availed until October 31. Anyone can freely enter its two buildings one of which holds artworks from the Spanish Era to recent times. The other building holds the archeological artifacts unearthed in the Philippines. It is the first building that I visited.

I was immediately amazed the moment I entered the museum. I felt transported to another era.

Inside the Philippine National Museum


That is just the beginning because I became more amazed when I entered the first gallery. My eyes fell upon a painting that I usually see in textbooks and the Internet. Juan Luna’s magnum opus: The Spoliarium.

Spoliarium in the Philippine National Museum


I didn’t expect that this painting would be so big. Standing in front of this painting is much better than viewing its photos and replicas.

Spoliarium is not the only artwork that made me say “wow”. Each gallery that I visited in this museum has at least one painting or sculpture that caught my attention.

A Little Info about the Philippine National Museum


The National Museum of the Philippines was established in October 29, 1901 during the years of American Occupation as the Insular Museum of Ethnology. Its main function is to serve as the repository of historical and archaeological artifacts and show them to the public. The museum currently has three buildings housing the National Art Gallery, Museum of the Filipino People, and the National Museum of Natural History. The National Museum also operates the Planetarium located in Luneta Park.

The National Art Gallery was formerly the Legislative Building. It was initially intended to be the National Library but then became the legislature building during the Commonwealth Period. Plenty of historic events occurred inside its halls some of which are the Constitutional Convention (1934) and the oath taking of presidents Manuel Quezon, Jose Laurel, and Manuel Roxas.*

Philippine National Museum damage during the Second World War
The legislative building (now known as the National Museum) damaged during the War (Source: Malaca├▒ang website).

It shared the same fate as the Manila Central Post Office as it was damaged during the Liberation of Manila at the end of the Second World War. Fortunately, the building was not levelled by bombs thus it was easily restored after the war. After housing the Philippine Congress, the office of the Prime Minister during the Martial Law years, the office of the Vice President, Senate, Sandiganbayan, and the Ombudsman; it was turned over to the National Museum in 1998 for the centennial celebrations of Philippine independence.



The National Museum, or particularly the National Art Gallery, is located just few meters away from the Manila City Hall. It can be reached by riding any jeepney or bus that will go to the city hall. Refer to the map above for directions.

What I Saw Inside the National Museum


Thrill seekers will find the National Museum’s art gallery a boring place because it only contains paintings and sculptures. But since I’m a self-confessed history enthusiast, I consider my visit an adventure to the past.

The National Art Gallery is composed of various galleries that displays artworks from the Spanish Era to modern times. Of the many names of Filipino artists that I read in the museum; the ones I know are Juan Luna, Napoleon Abueva, Vicente Manansala, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Fernando Amorsolo, and Guillermo Tolentino. (Yeah I know, my knowledge of Filipino arts is very poor).

Philippine National Museum - Tinikling by Fernando Amorsolo
Tinikling by Fernando Amorsolo on display in the National Museum.

I found the National Art Gallery a good place to compare the classic style to modern style of artworks. In my opinion, the painting using the classic styles are much better than the modern style. I find the abstract art (one of the modern style of painting) chaotic and ugly. I prefer that humans look like humans instead of being presented as just squiggly lines. Despite of this, there are some modern-style paintings displayed in the museum that I liked like the Sarimanok of Abdul Mari Imao.

Philippine National Museum - Sarimanok by Abdul Mari Imao

Of the many galleries inside the National Museum, my favorites would be the galleries containing old Catholic arts and the paintings depicting the Basi Revolt in Ilocos. My first favorite gallery reminded me of my visit to the [name of meum in Cebu]. This gallery is field with old images of saints, religious paintings, and even old retablo (altars) from various churches around the country.

Old statues of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic in the Philippine National Museum
Saints Francis and Dominic with missing hands.

I noticed that most of the old sculptures of saints in the National Museum have missing hands. I am not sure but I believe that the hands were made of ivory or gold and were cut off by thieves. Other images in San Agustin Museum and other churches experienced such desecration from thieves.

Painting of the Holy Fanily in the Philippine National Museum

My second favorite gallery contains 14 paintings depicting the climax of the 1807 Basi Revolt in Ilocos. I liked it because it gave me a view of one of the largely ignored part of Philippine history. In fact, the Basi Revolt occupied just a few sentences in our high school history books.

Basi Revolt painting in the Philippine National Museum
Colonial government soldiers and Ilocano revolutionaries fighting at the banks of Bantoay River.

Much to the envy of Andres Bonifacio and others, Our National Hero has his own gallery in the National Museum. The gallery showcases some Rizal’s artworks, and paintings and sculptures made by other artists. Of all the artworks inside this gallery, my favorite would be the El Edillio un Azotea by Roman Faustino.

Painting of Jose Rizal in the Philippine National Museum

Various historians and Rizal fanboys glorify the National Hero by highlighting his relationships with women. Some of them claimed that Jose Rizal had girlfriends in the Philippines, Japan, Britain, and Germany. In short, they say that Pepe is a chickboy. Faustino’s painting reminded me of that depiction. Just look at Pepe’s arm in the painting. Nakaakbay agad. :-P

The Parisian Life by Juan Luna in the Philippine National Museum

Aside from the Spoliarium, the National Museum also displays another Juan Luna’s work: the Parisian Life. I didn’t know about this painting until one of curator said that they have the “controversial painting”. The Parisian Life became controversial because it was purchased by the GSIS for 25.4 million pesos. GSIS was criticized because of this because (as the critics said) GSIS has no right to use its funds to acquire works of art.

Of all the paintings that I saw in the National Art Gallery, my favorite would be the Dead Child painted by Simon Flores in 1896.

Painting of the dead child in the Philippine National Museum

I was drawn to the peaceful expression of the child. Maybe he died peacefully?

The paintings and sculptures that I posted here is just few of the scores of photo that I took during the whole afternoon. Unfortunately, the space for this post is limited so I cannot post them all. Maybe I’ll share those paintings in the future blog posts.

Schedules and Tips when Visiting the National Museum


There were few visitors during my visit to the National Museum that afternoon. I saw at least two group tours and one school field trip but they didn’t crowd the place. The curators said that weekdays are the best time to visit to avoid the Saturday and Sunday crowds.

PhilAm paintings in the Philippine National Museum

The entrance fee of 50 pesos will give you access to all the galleries of the National Art Gallery. Entrance fee is free during Sundays.

Taking of photography is allowed but the use of flash is prohibited. Curators strictly enforce this rule to prevent the deterioration of painting. In fact, a curator asked me to stop taking photos because my camera emits a strong light. I was allowed to resume photography when I covered the light with my handkerchief.

Touching any artwork is prohibited. Bringing in food and drinks, and pets is also prohibited.

Sad lady in the Philippine National Museum

The whole afternoon was enough for me to visit all of the galleries. And, mind you, my time in each gallery was not rushed. I took my time viewing the artworks until the closing time at 5 PM.

I am glad that I was able to Visit the National Museum. It was like being fed with sumptuous food course after course. The only difference is that at end of the afternoon, my feet were aching and my stomach is growling but my mind is satisfied.

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Information sources:

1. Price of the Parisian Life was obtained from the article  "The Cost of Saving Our Cultural Heritage" by Bienvenido Lumbera at the NCCA website.

2. The history of the National Museum (old legislative building) was obtained from the NHI marker on the wall of the museum.