Juan Luna’s Lost Masterpiece Revealed After 132 Years

After 132 years, Juan Luna’s masterpiece “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” has been discovered and brought back to his home country.

Celebrating the 125th year of Philippine independence, the Ayala Museum, in collaboration with León Gallery, unveiled Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece, making its first-ever appearance in the country. 

"Hymen, oh Hymenee" the long-lost masterpiece of Juan Luna
“Hymen, oh Hymenee” the long-lost masterpiece of Juan Luna/Photo from León Gallery

This historic event is a testament to the enduring legacy of Luna’s art and a momentous occasion for art enthusiasts and history aficionados alike.

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Known as “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” or “Roman Wedding,” this extraordinary piece has garnered legendary status among art collectors as the holy grail of Filipino art. 

Its last public appearance took place 132 years ago at the renowned Universal Exposition in Paris, where it shared the spotlight with the iconic Eiffel Tower. 

A closer look at "Hymen, oh Hymenee"
A closer look at “Hymen, oh Hymenee” / Photo from León Gallery

Since then, the painting became a subject of speculation, surrounded by mystery as it passed into private ownership, enhancing its captivating allure.

Experience the awe-inspiring exhibition “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” at Ayala Museum, featuring the immersive display of the revered masterpiece “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” Journey into Luna’s artistic genius in this extraordinary showcase.

A closer look at "Hymen, oh Hymenee"
A closer look at “Hymen, oh Hymenee” / Photo from León Gallery

Juan Luna’s triumphs, as described by historian Ambeth R. Ocampo, instilled immense pride in his fellow countrymen, resonating even to this day. Much like Lea Salonga’s success on the West End and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s dominance in world boxing, and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz’s historic Olympic Gold, Luna’s achievements have brought honor and joy to a grateful nation.

Discovery of the century

Art collector Jaime Ponce de Leon, the founder and director of León Gallery, embarked on a nearly decade-long pursuit to find “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” It began as a dream, evolving into an obsession, driving him to follow leads and clues throughout Europe. 

A closer look at "Hymen, oh Hymenee"
A closer look at “Hymen, oh Hymenee” / Photo from León Gallery

In 2017, his relentless chase paid off as he successfully acquired the renowned artwork. However, it remained concealed in a crate within his storeroom, awaiting the ideal moment to unveil its splendor.

In 2022, due to exceptional circumstances, the long-awaited moment arrived as “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” was loaned to Ayala Museum. The timing was impeccable, coinciding with the upcoming 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood in 2023.

According to Ayala Museum, it is unusual to have an exhibition centered around a single artwork. However, the long-lost treasure “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” holds captivating stories from a different era, reflecting the enduring aspects of our own time. 

The exhibition, titled Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero curated by scenographer Gino Gonzales, explores three themes: the world of 1889, Juan Luna as a heroic painter, and the intricate imagery inspired by a Roman wedding feast. 

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood, Ayala Museum will offer free admission on the opening day of the exhibition, June 12. 

The exhibition, co-presented by Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land Inc., and Insular Life (InLife), with major support from BPI and SMEG, will run until December 31, 2023.

All images and banner photo courtesy of León Gallery.

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