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Bronze Bust of Juan Luna: Long-lost Treasure Returns to the National Museum of the Philippines After 78 Years

Bust of Juan Luna

The National Museum of the Philippines warmly welcomed the turnover of the bronze Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio by Mariano Benlliure from the MIB Capital Corporation to the National Fine Arts Collection during a ceremony held earlier today at the Spoliarium Hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts, graced by First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, Senator Nancy Binay, Representative Christopher de Venecia, the NMP’s Board of Trustees, officials from MIB Capital Corporation, Salcedo Auctions, cultural agencies, the Embassy of Spain, partner institutions and friends of the NMP, among others.


Bust of Juan Luna


A century ago, the bust was gifted to the Philippine Government on 12 October 1922, and was part of the National Museum Collection as documented in the 1938 Catalog of Paintings, Sculptures, and Historical Objects by the National Library. Unfortunately, the bust, along with other priceless artifacts and artworks, was lost to the intense shelling of the Old Legislative Building which served as a temporary repository for such items during World War II. The whereabouts of the bust remained a mystery until this year when it appeared in an auction lot from the Salcedo Auctions’ “The Well Appointed Life” last September.


Bust of Juan Luna


Upon learning about the auction of the bust, the NMP wrote a letter to Salcedo Auctions requesting to hold off its sale to further discuss its provenance. Afterwards, Salcedo Auctions, as well as the then-keepers of the bust MIB Capital Corporation, swiftly and graciously acceded to the NMP’s request and withdrew the piece from auction.

After further research and negotiations from all involved parties, an amicable decision was reached and the bust was returned to the NMP.

NMP Director-General Jeremy R. Barns expressed his appreciation to the MIB Capital Corporation and the Salcedo Auctions for their swift action and civic-mindedness in facilitating the turnover of the bust. DG Barns also noted the significance of this turnover and what it will mean to the Filipino people.

“My hope is that all Filipinos will be able to take in their hearts this act of goodwill as well as the fact that we are writing, at this moment, the happiest possible ending to the 78-year-long story of the loss to the nation of this fine effigy of arguably the greatest Filipino painter,” Barns said.

Meanwhile, MIB Capital Corporation Chairperson Marilou C. Cristobal remarked on how meaningful this turnover would be to their corporation.

“Turning over this historical artwork to the National Museum of the Philippines, who will let the Filipino people view and admire such an artwork, is both an honor and a privilege,” Cristobal stated.

Likewise, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also celebrated the return of the bust to the National Museum. In a statement read by NMP Chairman Andoni M. Aboitiz, PBBM remarked that “this priceless piece of art has gained its rightful place in the hallowed halls of the National Museum of the Philippines, a true marker of our commitment to preserving our country’s colorful tapestry.”

Chairman Aboitiz then received the bust, formally turning over its care to the National Museum of the Philippines.

The Bust of Juan Luna by Mariano Benlliure will be on public view starting tomorrow, 11 October 2023, at the Spoliarium Hall, 2/F, National Museum of Fine Arts. The National Museum of the Philippines is open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9 AM to 6 PM. Admission is FREE!


In the News: Bronze bust of Juan Luna withdrawn from auction after National Museum appeal


Gifted 1922, Lost 1945, Recovered 2023

MIB Turns Over Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio to the Filipino Nation

The Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio by Mariano Benlliure
The Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio by Mariano Benlliure (cast in bronze in Madrid by Mir y Ferrero Fundidores circa 1922 from the original 1884 model made in Rome), was donated to "the Government and people of the Philippine Islands" in 1922, lost in the ruins of the Legislative Building where the National Museum Collections were stored for safekeeping in 1945, and will be recovered through its turnover back to the National Museum of the Philippines from MIB Capital Corporation on October 10, 2023.


Multinational Investment Bancorporation (MIB), now known as MIB Capital Corporation, is bringing one of its most prized possessions, the ‘Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio’ by the Spanish sculptor Mariano Benlliure to its permanent home in the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). This historical artwork, believed to have been lost in the Battle of Manila in 1945, is being offered as a gesture of civic responsibility and goodwill as a gift to the nation. The official turnover ceremony and formal signing of the turnover agreement will be held at the National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA) in Manila to be attended by officials of MIB, the NMP’s Board of Trustees, other government officials, and the principals of Salcedo Auctions who provided critical scholastic research on the art piece. The turnover ceremony will be held on October 10, which is highly appropriate as this month of October is the 101st anniversary of the original donation of the bust of Luna as a gift to the Philippines from Spanish donors made on October 12, 1922, the 166th birth anniversary of Luna on October 25, and, importantly for the NMP, Museums and Galleries Month.

receiving ceremony of the donation to the Philippines of the Bust of Juan Luna by Mariano Benlliure
Executive Order No. 54, dated October 10, 1922, where Governor-General Leonard Wood provides for the receiving ceremony of the donation to the Philippines of the Bust of Juan Luna by Mariano Benlliure (together with a full-sized copy of the painting Spoliarium by Juan Antonio Benlliure) from Spanish donors on October 12, 1922 at the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros, Manila. The group photo shows Wood in 1922 with Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, House of Representatives Speaker Manuel Roxas, and the cabinet secretaries.
Image credits: Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines and the Office of the President


Since its acquisition in 1979, the bust has been kept in MIB’s vault for most of the time in order to preserve the integrity of such an important piece. Apart from being an exemplary work by the Spanish sculptor, the bust is symbolic of a turning point in our nation’s journey toward independence. Benlliure created the bust’s plaster original in 1884, the same year that his good friend won the First Class Medal at Madrid’s ExposiciΓ³n Nacional de Bellas Artes for Spoliarium, Luna’s magnum opus that helped spark nationalist feeling that would later culminate in the revolution against Spain.

a photograph from the Sunday Times Magazine, circa 1930, showing the Gallery of Art at the Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento; and the Catalog of Paintings, Sculptures and Historical Objects published by the National Library in 1938
Precious records of what was once in the National Museum Collections before the destruction of the Second World War: a photograph from the Sunday Times Magazine, circa 1930, showing the Gallery of Art at the Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento; and the Catalog of Paintings, Sculptures and Historical Objects published by the National Library in 1938, which included the Bust of Juan Luna by Mariano Benlliure among the collections listed.
Image credits: National Museum of the Philippines


MIB’s efforts in recovering and caring for such a remarkable representation of arguably the country’s greatest artist will be recognized, along with Salcedo Auctions’ rigorous efforts to authenticate the piece, with an inscription that will accompany the bust where it will be exhibited in perpetuity in the NMFA’s Spoliarium Hall:

An aerial view of the wrecked Legislative Building in Manila, taken in July 1945, after the Battle of Manila
An aerial view of the wrecked Legislative Building in Manila, taken in July 1945, after the Battle of Manila. The Bust of Juan Luna by Mariano Benlliure appears to have survived the destruction and been retrieved from the rubble of the building by a scavenger, who kept and sold it intact.
Image credit: John Tewell


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𝐓𝐇𝐄 π’π”π‘π•πˆπ•π€π‹ πŽπ… π“π‡πˆπ’ 𝐒𝐂𝐔𝐋𝐏𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝐈𝐍 𝐓𝐇𝐄 πƒπ„π’π“π‘π”π‚π“πˆπŽπ πŽπ… 𝐓𝐇𝐄 π’π„π‚πŽππƒ π–πŽπ‘π‹πƒ 𝐖𝐀𝐑, πˆπ“π’ π‰πŽπ”π‘ππ„π˜ π“π‡π‘πŽπ”π†π‡ 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐃𝐄𝐂𝐀𝐃𝐄𝐒 π’πˆππ‚π„, 𝐀𝐍𝐃 πˆπ“π’ 𝐑𝐄𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐍 π“πŽ 𝐓𝐇𝐄 ππ€π“πˆπŽπ πŒπ€πƒπ„ ππŽπ’π’πˆππ‹π„ 𝐁𝐘 π’πˆππ‚π„π‘π„ π‚πˆπ•πˆπ‚-πŒπˆππƒπ„πƒππ„π’π’ 𝐀𝐍𝐃 π‹πŽπ•π„ πŽπ… π‚πŽπ”ππ“π‘π˜, πˆπ’ 𝐀 π‘π„πŒπ€π‘πŠπ€ππ‹π„ π’π“πŽπ‘π˜ π…π‘πŽπŒ π–π‡πˆπ‚π‡ 𝐀𝐋𝐋 π…πˆπ‹πˆππˆππŽπ’ 𝐂𝐀𝐍 π“π€πŠπ„ πˆππ’ππˆπ‘π€π“πˆπŽπ.

MIB expressed to the NMP that it takes great pride in having played a pivotal role in an important historical moment and looks forward to sharing Benlliure’s ‘Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio’ with the Filipino nation. The NMP is very pleased to receive this work of art and restore it to the National Fine Arts Collection. The public will be able to view it immediately at the Spoliarium Hall starting Wednesday, October 11.

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