The Spoliarium

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A description of Juan Luna's painting, The Spoliarium. This painting is the largest painting in the Philippines and an amazing history behind this famous painting. Juan Luna gained great popularity among the Filipinos because of this painting.

The Spoliarium is a painting created by Filipino painter Juan Luna. Along with Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, he won the gold medal for this particular painting during the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884, with Hidalgo winning a silver medal for his painting "The Assasination of Governor Bustamante and his Son."

Spoliarium is Latin that refers to the basement of the Roman Coliseum where the fallen and dying gladiators are dumped and devoid of their worldly possessions. According to the Philippine National Museum, this painting is the most valuable oil on canvas painting by Jaun Luna. This painting has an incredible contrast between the left side and the right side. The left side shows charged emotions and the right side of the painting shows a more somber mood.

The first thing you'll notice about the painting is its size. Standing at 4 meters in height and 7 meters in width, the painting no doubt commands attention and gives off a majestic aura. Any viewer of the painting will feel dwarfed by the large painting and may feel overwhelmed by the magnanimity of it. It is the largest painting in the Philippines.The next thing you'll notice about the Spoliarium is the rich colors used. Predominantly, the painter made use of warm colors for his work of art, with reds being a central color that attracts the most attention. In person, the colors are striking and quite unique.

The Spoliarium depicts an event during the Roman Empire, where gladiators die for entertainment. The painting shows how gladiators are being dragged mercilessly by men towards an unknown darkness, where other tragically killed gladiators are brought. To the left is a cheering crowd, screaming for blood while to the right, a woman is crouched and seemingly in sorrow.

The painting shows a tragic event, definitely. But it also shows a deeper meaning, especially for the Filipinos during the time of the Spanish colonization (which lasted over 400 years!). According to art experts, the fallen gladiators who are being dragged are the Filipino people, while the men dragging them into the darkness are representative of the Spanish rule. The woman crouched on the right side of the painting is believed to be the Mother Country or the Inang Bayan who weeps for her Philippines. The blood thirsty crowd to the left is a representation of the social cancer of that time. Truly, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Luna's painting. 


The Spoliarium is famous among the Filipino people, to say the least. The fact that Luna had gained recognition among other Spaniards in Madrid because of this painting has given the Filipinos great pride. This also shows that the Filipinos have skills that can equal, if not, surpass the Europeans of that time. This is why the painting, along with Hidalgo's, are deemed National Cultural Treasures, because they were able to contribute to the development of art in the Philippines.

The Spoliarium can be found in the Hall of the Masters of The National Museum of the Philippines. Whether you are a foreigner or a local, take a few hours off your schedule to visit the museum and learn more about Philippine culture and history through the eyes of its artists. It is an educational and enriching experience.