Today in Philippine History, November 4, 1835, Lorenzo Guerrero was born in Ermita

Saturday September 05, 2015 ()

On November 4, 1835, Lorenzo Guerrero, among the few Filipino teachers of painting who flourished during the latter half of the nineteenth century and Juan Luna's painting teacher, was born in Ermita, then a town independent of Manila.

He was the second of fourteen children of Leon Jorge Guerrero and Clara Leogardo. His father was in the employ of the Spanish government in the Philippines as warehouse keeper (almacenero de la administracion de rentas estancadas) in the Pasig district from 1858, but he left the service rather than to swear allegiance to the newly constituted Spanish Republic upon the overthrow of Queen Isabela in 1868. He studied Latinity in the College of San Jose. One of his early preceptors was Father Jose Ma. Guevara, a Filipino priest later deported to the Marianas for alleged complicity in the Cavite Revolt of 1872.

Lorenzo Guerrero
(Lorenzo Guerrero)

Lorenzo's artistic leanings were manifested early. At the age of 16 he was already giving lessons in drawing. Dr. Jose Rizal described him as a "master who had virtually taught himself". After the death of the Filipino pioneer painting teacher, Damian Domingo, a number of Spanish artists were imported from the Peninsula. Guerrero studied with such newcomers as Cortina and later, Valdes. How long he came under them can not be ascertained. Probably it was not long, for soon these teachers were succeeded by Agustin Saez. Guerrero, together with another Filipino painter, Lorenzo Rocha y Ycaza, was already an assistant (ayudante de naturales) in the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura located in Cabildo Street, Intramuros, as early as 1858. When Saez resigned in 1891, the latter ably succeeded him, with Guerrero still as assistant.

At the same time he gave drawing lessons in the girls' schools of Santa Isabel, La Concordia, and later in the Instituto de Mujeres. He must have had a busy daily program, for he also gave private lessons in the homes of students. He started before six o'clock in the morning and worked till noon, and after lunch was off again until seven or eight in the evening. Most of his private pupils were girls, daughters of prominent Manila families, both from the Spanish community and the Filipino upper class. Of the latter were:

  • Pacita Paterno,
  • Asuncion Zamora (Mrs. Maximino Paterno),
  • Consuelo Roxas,
  • Juanita Zamora (Mrs. Pablo Ocampo),
  • Pacita Longos,
  • Margarita Roxas (Mrs. Andres Soriano),
  • Maria Icaza (Vda. de Velasco),
  • Micaela Rosales (Vda. de Marcaida),
  • Pilar Lontok,
  • Antera Pantoja,
  • Clara and Arsenia Tambunting,
  • Consuelo Hasañas,
  • Corinta and Clemencia Ramirez (Clemencia later became his wife).

Among his male pupils were:

  • Manuel Espiritu, painter;
  • Anselmo Espiritu, sculptor;
  • Juan Arellano, architect;
  • Alfredo Guerrero, physician and painter and his nephew;
  • Miguel Reyes, artist and photographer; and
  • Eulogio Garcia, sculptor.

In his house he gave lessons to a few, and talked on art to students attending the College of Nuestra Señora de Guia, a school directed by his sister-in-law, Corinta Ramirez. His house soon became a sort of a club in which he was the dominant figure. Toribio Antillon, Ramon Martinez, Vicente Rivera y Mir, and others visited him often and received much encouragement from him as did Fabian de la Rosa. Epifanio de los Santos y Cristobal, the critic, also frequented his place.

Juan Luna, after disagreeing with Agustin Saez, studied under him. Luna's bold and apparently heedless brushwork did not find favor with his Spanish teacher, but Guerrero saw in the young hand the nerves of genius, a strong individuality which only needed guidance and encouragement. When he could teach him nothing more, Guerrero advised Luna to go to Europe. Two paintings of the great painter done when he had established his fame firmly, hang in the Fernando Ma. Guerrero home in Manila, attesting to the gratitude which the former student felt for the teacher.

Lorenzo was married to Clemencia Ramirez, about 1868. The girl's father objected to the union, and when affairs were getting serious, sent his daughter to reside with her maternal uncle, then parochial priest at Mariquina (Marikina). Thither the enamored artist went, disguised in priest's robes. There were ups and downs in his romance but the wedding did took place. During the ceremony a dirge was tolled instead of wedding bells. But this did not discourage the artist. He wrote later in remembrance:

"When you talk of marriage in Manila, employment and wealth are everything to the whites; and among the natives, race and money".

Of the marriage, nine children were born; but only three reached maturity. Manuel S. Guerrero became a physician and was known for his literary inclinations as well as for his scientific contributions, Fernando Ma. Guerrero, considered the prince of Filipino poets in Spanish, and a daughter, Araceli Guerrero. In his youth the older Guerrero showed a predilection for poetry and himself composed verses, only a few fragments of which have appeared in print. They are of varied lengths and include religious poems, lyrics, and dedicatory poems. There are also several playlets and dialogues.

Later, Lorenzo's doggerel was to blossom into Fernando Ma. Guerrero's impulsive heroic and lyric lines, just as his primitive brush strokes found solidity of form and vigor in the canvases of Juan Luna.

"Don Lorenzo", as he was lovingly called, was not only a great teacher to whom men as famous as Juan Luna and Fabian de la Rosa are indebted, but also a most appreciative critic of the literary and musical arts. His counsels not only contributed to form the taste of his children, Fernando and Manuel, but inspired Jaime C. de Veyra and Epifanio de los Santos.

Certainly his influence was greatly felt in the sister art as well as in painting. De la Rosa remembers him as "the most learned Filipino painter who cultivated poetry and literature at the same time and was not indifferent to music. This artist possessed, in the highest degree ... the art of artistic instruction. His great success in the profession lasted as long as he lived, and we can say that the best artists produced by the country acquired their training more or less from his teaching and seasoned counsels".

Fernando Ma. Guerrero said of him: "Needless to say, it was my father who encouraged me to write poetry. While I was a student, he could not see me floundering about, as he often did, without himself writing the opening verses of the topics assigned to me for home work .... My father it was, whom Apollo sent to be my mentor at the outset of my poetic labors".

Mrs. Guerrero had similar artistic tastes. She loved books and had a taste for reading, and she cultivated the fine arts too. She sang; she painted, but only Christian Slaves in Turkey seems to have remained of her paintings. Several used to hang in the Mariquina church before this was burned. Some of her embroidery work reached the court of Alfonso XII. The fine quality of her craftsmanship can be seen from a needlework portrait of Dr. Gregorio Mallen, a Spaniard, now preserved by her daughter. A close view hardly reveals that it is embroidered.

Evidence of Guerrero's helping hand is not absent. The Fernando Ma. Guerrero family now treasures a number of decorative designs, from simple monograms to elaborate designs for women's apparel and priestly robes, all bearing the impress of an artist's imagination. He made ornate patterns for the dresses of the wives of high Malacafiang officials. De la Rosa noted that he was one of the earliest artists to apply art in interior decoration.

One of the illustrations of Lorenzo Guerrero in Flora de Filipinas
One of the illustrations of Lorenzo Guerrero in Flora de Filipinas

As a Filipino he was a nationalist in heart and deed. He always wore a barong Tagalog. When he was asked to put on a European coat on a certain occasion, he declared that the medal of honor could just as well be pinned on his pechera. He spoke correct Spanish and always objected to being spoken to in the Ermita slang; but when he spoke Tagalog, it was the pure Tagalog. During the last twenty years of his life he was afflicted with asthma, so that he was always seen wearing a straw hat, or carrying an umbrella. He habitually wore a flannel coat in his later years.

He was an exemplary father. "My only consolation is the love for my children", he wrote in his Notes. "The laughter of my children in play brings tears to my eyes"; "my days are lengthened every time my children kiss me".

He died suddenly of acute asthma at 8:30 in the evening of April 8, 1904. The cortege the following day was outstandingly long and included many of his pupils. He was buried in the Paco cemetery; his remains were later transferred to the old Ermita Church, in the northwest corner under the choir.

Guerrero left a few works of enduring value. His beautiful illustrations in Father Manuel Blanco's Flora de Filipinas (Manila, 1877) will be remembered. Of the 253 signed plates (laminas) of the Flora, 35 were his. His drawings have an individuality all their own and are distinguished by great accuracy of detail. They are comparable only with those of Felix Martinez. Bodegon (1877), a still-life, is one of the best of his studies of plant life. This now hangs in the National Gallery in Manila. During the Philippine-American war he was commissioned to make designs for the ensigns and uniform of the revolutionary army, and he also had occasion to draw plants for his brother, Dr. Leon Ma. Guerrero, the botanist, the tide of war having brought them to different places in Central Luzon, rich in plant life.

Of his paintings only a few have survived. Many were made to order and shipped abroad; others housed in churches were burned. A number that remain are found in private collections and in Manila churches. His brush touched chiefly two subjects: strictly religious themes and scenes which depict native life and customs.

Sources:

  1. Lorenzo Guerrero, The Man and The Artist, E. Arsenio Manuel, Philippine Magazine Volume 33, Number 7, July 1936
  2. Juan Luna by Jose Rizal, Philippine Magazine, Volume 26, Number 6, July 1929
  3. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons


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