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WATCH: Juan Luna’s ‘Spoliarium’ comes to life in animated piece

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Feb 24, 2022 1:21 pm

Juan Luna’s iconic obra, the Spoliarium, has become a subject of inspiration for other artists to work on their own masterpieces, may it be in film, music, poetry and even digital art.

Among those who have been inspired by the masterpiece is motion graphics artist and animator Mark Cañega, who animated the painter and political activist's most popular work for National Arts Month in February.

Cañega, known for his viral animated series of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s works, including Couple Riding A Carabao During Sunset and Dalagang Bukid, breathed life into Luna’s massive work whose powerful message still reverberates today. 

Luna said to have labored eight months to finish his award-winning oil on canvas masterpiece in 1884, which depicts two gladiators being dragged into the spoliarium, or a chamber where fallen gladiators were taken to be stripped of their armor and weapons before their bodies are disposed of in ancient Rome. 

The masterpiece, which stands at 4.22 meters x 7.6 meters, is on permanent exhibit at the National Museum’s old House Session Hall.

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A post shared by Mark Cañega (@markcng)

Cañega chose to animate Spoliarium among Luna’s other works (like The Parisian Life) because, aside from it being a historical masterpiece which he was exposed to since he was in grade school, it also captures the message he wants to send across.

“Another main reason (why I chose Spoliarium) is nalalapit na ang anniversary ng EDSA Revolution," Cañega told PhilSTAR L!fe. 

He continued, “Somewhat parehas ang ipinapakita nitong mensahe na nangyari sa atin noon—ang pagiging oppressed at suppressed ng ating bansa, although hindi na nga lang galing sa mga Spaniards kundi sa sarili nating kalahi.”

Compared to Amorsolo’s illuminated landscapes and portraits that evoke calmness that Cañega previously worked on, Spoliarium bears a dark color scheme, with even darker meaning attached to it. He shared Luna's painting have more details and it took him several attempts before he was pleased with the results.

Using at least three kinds of software, 27-year-old Cañega, who is a part-time professor at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s animation program (where he also graduated), took three to four weeks to finish the 58-second animation, including painstakingly repainting each detail of the character on the scene.

And as with his previous animations of famous masterpieces, he makes sure to respect the artist’s work by maintaining the painting’s traditional look in the animation as much as possible.

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A post shared by Mark Cañega (@markcng)

Cañega, who worked on animating Spoliarium during his free time in between freelance projects, took fulfillment in finishing his latest piece as he gained a deeper appreciation for the original artwork.

“The more you look at the characters (in the painting), the more you’ll realize its hidden and deeper meaning. From the corpses being dragged, to the audience and even the crying lady on the side, each one of them symbolizes something that is beyond amazing,” he said.

For the clip, Cañega used the song Pasiya ng Langit by soprano Conching Rosal, who was known for her heartfelt renditions of kundiman songs, with the hope that younger generations will listen to classic Filipino music more. 

Cañega said he admires Juan Luna as an artist, who made an impact not just on art but also on society. However, he does not discount the fact that also etched in history is Luna’s violent tendency and fiery outbursts.

“Although I admire (Juan Luna) as an artist, what he did to his family and his temper is not something we should admire, regardless of how famous or talented you are, hurting others is never right regardless of any reason,” he said.

“To forget the past is to give up on your future,” Cañega wrote in his now viral Facebook post of his work. 

It echoes the message he wants to send across to those who will see the original Spoliarium and his animated piece.

“The painting is a masterpiece. Appreciate it and absorb its meaning. It’s a great reminder that we shouldn’t let others to oppress and suppress us and our country ever again,” he said. 

Watch the Mark Cañega’s animated rendition of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium below. (Reposted with permission from Mark Cañega.)

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A post shared by Mark Cañega (@markcng)