Today in Philippine history, December 14, 1869, Jose Maria Asuncion was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila

Wednesday October 09, 2013 ()

   Jose Maria Asuncion
   Jose Maria Asuncion
On December 14, 1869, Jose Maria Asuncion, painter and writer, was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila to Hilarion Asuncion and Marcela Raymundo. He was the eldest of four children. His father, Hilarion, was a portraitist and painter of religious subjects. His grandfather, Leoncio Asuncion, was a notable woodcarver.

Asuncion enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1888. At the same time, he was studying at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura, 1884-1889, then under the direction of Agustin Saez. Later, he transferred to the University of Santo Tomas to study under Felipe Roxas, who advised him to take further studies abroad. In 1890 he went to Paris through a grant he received from Agustina Medel, a wealthy patroness of the arts from Manila and, later, owner of Teatro Zorilla.

While in Paris he enrolled at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid, where he studied for four years, 1891-1895. He garnered first prize in general history of art and costumes and obtained second prize in theory, aesthetics, and philosophy of art. In 1895, he sailed back to Manila, passed a competitive examination, and was appointed assistant in the Escuela Profesional de Artes y Oficios in Iloilo, a position he held until November 1898.

Today in Philippine history, December 14, 1869, Jose Maria Asuncion was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila

During the second stage of the Philippine Revolution, he served in the military administration and at one time took charge of the provisions for Filipino forces in Iloilo. He also worked for the engineer corps as lieutenant under General Adriano Hernandez and helped in the construction of fortifications and trenches in Jaro, Leganes, La Paz and other strategic points.

During the Filipino-American War, he served under Genenral Pablo Araneta, was promoted to captain in February 1899, and three months later, to commander. When the Americans gradually gained ground on his forces, he retreated to the mountains.

After some time, Asuncion and his wife, Juana Hubero, whom he married in September 1899, went to Calbayog, Samar to join his father who ran a grocery store. It was in his town that his wife gave birth to their first child, Vicente. A year later he moved his family to Tacloban, Leyte. He stayed there for four years, spending his time painting landscapes and telons for local comedias. He also engaged in photography, a business which he left to his brother Gabriel for management when he left for Manila in 1905.

He studied law, 1905-1909. He became a member of the Partido Independista, and was soon contributing articles on art and social and economic problems to the party's organ, La Independencia.

He also wrote for El Ilonguillo, La Voz de Mindanao, La Union, El Estudiante, El Renacimiento, The Independent, and Dia Filipino.

Together with Rafael Enriquez, he founded the Sociedad Internacional de Artistas of Manila. Enriquez became its first president and Asuncion, its secretary. During their term, the Exposicion de Bellas Artes y Industrias Artisticas was held in December 1908, in time for the visit of an American squadron. This exhibition displayed more than 4,000 pieces of art. It aroused much interest and emphasized the need for a publicly supported institution in the arts.

His studies on the history of Philippine art and his sketches of Filipino costumes are among the few exceedingly valuable contributions on these subjects. The drawings numbered 215 but were never wholly published. Some appeared in print under the title, “El Traje Filipino, 1750 a 1830”, in Revista Historica de Filipinas, for August 1905. He could have left a much more significant tribute to his memory had this collection of studies and drawings been published. But after his death, it was neglected. When another painter, Vicente Alcarez Dizon, saw Asuncion's scattered works, they were already in a bad state. He acquired them and used them later for his studies.

When the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts was opened, Asuncion accepted an appointment to its faculty on June 1, 1909. Two years later, on July 1, 1911, he was made secretary of the school. Asuncion's paintings are included in the private collections of Alfonso T. Ongpin, Antonio Torres, Epifanio de los Santos Cristobal, and the Limjap family. He was considered by Fabian de la Rosa as a specialist in "still life" and, at the same time, as one who "devoted himself with notable ability, to the studies of art, archaeology and journalism".

He died on May 2, 1925. His remains were buried in the Veteran’s Lot, Cementerio del Norte, Manila.

In 1932, his heirs donated his collection of writings to the National Library.


  1. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Volume 4. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994, via the National Historical Commission.
  2. Manuel, E. Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biography Volume I. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publications, 1955, via the National Historical Commission..


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