Monday, August 10, 2015

228. Collecting the Past as a Beacon to the Future: DON LUIS MA. ARANETA, by Ernesto E. Punzalan

Condensed from an article by Ernesto E. Punzalan of the same title,
Originally published in Sunburst Magazine. March 1979. 
Photography by George Tapan and Resty Guevarra.

Luis Ma. Araneta, the genteel and generally acknowledged numero uno of private antique collectors in the Philippines, could very well have the same outlook as the above Italian in amassing his own vast collection. A patrician by birth and manner, Araneta regards his relics as “a part me, my sensitivity to what represents man and art, especially to that which we call Filipino”.

The image of the Sto. Nino was a favorite subject of both Filipino and Chinese and carvers of the 18th century. This ornate Nino is dressed up in an 18th carat gold filigreed costume complimented by a gold corona, boots and sceptre, with a red satin cape intricately trimmed with gold thread borders and fleur de lis designs. The orb is silver with gold trimmings. Done in heavy wood, 18th century.

 The Filipino is a vague shroud behind which hovers the mysticism and snob appeal of antique collecting. Mga lumang bagay-bagay, the almost derogatory Tagalog term for anything old, has been the bone of conetnion and debate among many collectors for 2 decades now. What started as atrickle in the fifties is now a confused fad. Legitimate art enthusiasts are swept aside in the stampede of hoarders, hustlers, investors, unscrupulous dealers and artistic mafiosi.

 Today, no abode of the Filipino nouveau riche can rise without an anonymous painter’s obra from the 18th century or a Sung or Ming vase (usually bought at padded prices) and a plethora of fakes and instant antiques assembled by those creative artists of Rizal and passed off to the flush but unknowing as the real thing.

 Don Luis, as he is fondly called by most acquaintances—or ‘Lui’-- to his friends, enthuses: “”I am glad that the awakening that has made me realize the value of these objets d’art is now a common experience”. His awesome museum is now made possible, a quixotic enthusiasm. He brought to it from the start an in-born artistic talent (he is an architect) and a millionaire’s checkbook.

The Araneta collection has thus become perhaps the most talked about in the country. The ramblings house (palazzo might be a more accurate term for it) in McKinley Road in Forbes Park teems with priceless discoveries—ageless santos in ivory and wood prominently displayed side by side with old Damian Domingo, Amorsolo, Hidalgo, Luna masterpieces as well as the efforts of anonymous painters. Luis Araneta’s antiques has made him humane, he says.

Photo from the Pagrel Exhibit Catalog, Intramuros, 
 His desire to share his largesse to his countrymen has already led him to donate a large portion of his collection to the San Agustin Church Museum. The “Pagrel Collection”, an acronym which stands for the name of his three children—Patricia, Gregorio and Elvira—is housed at the former refectory of the Augustinian friars in the convento of San Agustin.

Photo from the Pagrel Collection Exhibit Catalaog, Intramuros.
It has been dedicated by Luis Ma. Araneta to the memory of his mother, Doña Carmen Zaragoza vd. De Araneta on the occasion of the first centennial of her birth on June 29, 1976. Don Luis himself passed away on Easter Sunday on April 22, 1984.

Additional photos from the PAGREL COLLECTION Catalog. 

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