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Old Master found again: He had fun

by: Eric Torres

from The Times Journal, Sunday, October 26,1975


Any one who wants to study the works of early Filipino painters will find a small if lacklustre collection in our National Museum to start with. The real glories, unseen by many and unknown even to connoisseurs, hang in ancestral homes – or are kept in the garages – of some of the premier families of Manila and neighboring provincial towns. Just to see these masterpieces in a house –to-house quest is a matter of such Odysean resourcefulness and frustration to make one imagine that a camel’s passage through the eye of a needle simpler.

The relative obscurity today of painters born in the early decades of the 19th century is undeserved though explainable. Perhaps the cultist attention to those late 19th-century laureates who made it to the fashionable salons of Europe, Juan Luna and Felix Resurrection Hidalgo, has made many lose sight of the genuine, and no-less-brilliant, achievements of such artists who stayed home and contributed to the development of a native aesthetic tradition as Antonio Malantic, Lorenzo Guerrero, Simon Flores, and the legendary Justiniano Asuncion, alias Capitan Ting.

At the peak of his creative life Capitan Ting enjoyed a reputation matched only by that Master of Tondo, Malantic. A work done in his prime, which has been in the possession of the Castrillo sisters of Biῇan, Laguna, for generations, is an oil portrait of his grandniece, Romana Asuncion Carrillo, dated 1870 and signed “J.A.” is a florid script. It is as sophisticated as one could ask for, in late Renaissance style characteristic by a mirror-image illusionism, classical clarity of outline, and veristic modelling. It is certainly more full-fleshed than any portrait by Damian Domingo, the mestizo who directed the first school of fine arts in Manila; by comparison, Domingo’s portraits look like whimsical dolls or mannequins.

Idealized Rendering

The portrait of Romana tells us much about the conventions of portraiture at that time. The subject is idealized: forehead, nose and mouth are rendered with pearly smoothness; no trace of epidermal imperfection is allowed to appear; eyes peer at the beholder in a manner piercingly limpid and alive; not one strand of the well-combed hair is out of place.

One convention demanded that the appearance of the sitter be impeccably correct, in unimpeachable taste, for the portrait was meant not merely to decorate the growing expanse of the walks in the house of Indios whose wealth derived from trade and commerce. It was also a cachet of status for the rising ilustrado class eager to win the respect of everyone and to perpetuate an image of superior education and breeding in the best possible light.

As in Renaissance icons of European nobility, the portrait of a lady was calculated to show the comfort and leisure of her class, and to show these by her putting on the finest and most expensive clothes – fulsome panuelo and camisa of piῇa, billowy skirt of brilliant silky stripes and such accessories as perfumed lace handkerchief and ivory fan. Sitting for a portrait also provided a splendid excuse to deck herself with the treasures of her jewel box, and these consisted of comb, petache (a hair ornament), earring, tamburin (pendant) or rosary – all studded with pearls and diamonds – and rings on most fingers (three for each hand was a standard number). Each exquisite detail of rococo embroidery and filigree was delineated with a virtuoso precision designed to astonish.
Above all the artist was expected to capture an ambience of decorum and highmindedness, which among other things meant keeping the sitter’s mouth shut.

Delicate tension

What gives pictorial clout to early portraiture by painters of Capitan Ting’s calibre was a certain delicate tension created between the exuberant linear and textural details of finery on one hand, and the rather plain Pilar expression of the face on the other – and again between the stiff transparent planes of dress and the roundly sensuous modelling of the face, hands and sometimes forearms, if shown at all. Evident in Capitan Ting’s best portraits is a wide-eyed, provincial curiosity about the status-seeking attitudes and material splendour of his ilustrado patrons, whom he saw at their Sunday best – a curiousity mixed with just the right measure of enthusiasm and detachment, which accounts for the crisp sentimentality in the portraits he did of the women in the Paterno family of Quiapo.

Capitan Ting was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila, on September 23, 1816 to a family of Chinese extraction. (In a double portrait he did of his parents, his father strikes a pose which clearly displays his Chinese queue.) He was second to the youngest of 12 children. Five of his brothers were all-around painters and sculptors, the most gifted of whom was Leoncio, who carved fine religious images in ivory and baroque furniture as well.

Barrio captain

About 1855 he served as barrio captain for Santa Cruz, and was well liked for his worldly wisdom and congeniality. That he had a stone house built on Calle Quiton is a sign that he enjoyed some measure of economic prosperity from commerce. There he lived most of his long life, raised six children, and supported a number of relatives. In his late years, he retired to Bulan, Sorsogon, where two of his sons, also painters, had settled down. In his Bicol retirement, he raised some of the best fighting cocks in the region. He died in Bulan in 1896 at the age of 80.

A self-taught artist, he painted for pleasure rather than for money. Like the other masters of his time, he applied his prodigious skill to all kinds of art work, including colourful genre illustrations depicting such local types as a mestiza cooling herself by the river, a vendor of mats, an aficionado of the cockpit coddling his gamecock, and so on, which must have delighted foreign visitors.

Miniatures, too

He did works of monumental scale as well as miniatures no larger than the size of one’s palm. His one magnum opus of imposing dimensions depicting bigger-than-life figures of four saints, Jerome, Agustin, Gregory, and Ambrose, painted on the pendentives of the Santa Cruz church, was destroyed by fire, before World War II.

But the miniatures have survived as heirlooms among fourth generation Asuncions. These are portraits in oil or watercolour on thin, flat pieces of ivory whose texture was used to enhance the luminescent quality of his hues and to give the superfine rendering of the skin and hair the highest degree of verismo.
A branch of the Asuncion family tree, the Gomezes of Ongpin street, has a few examples which clearly reveal the miniaturismo method. This consisted of first polishing the surface of the ivory to a fine sheen and then drawing the outlines of the figure in pencil. The last stage, the most painstaking, called for the application of paint by means of a tiny brush (which appears for all intents and purposes to have had no more than three or four hairs) in a pointillistic system of dots, or points.

The result was a pellucid illusion of the model which no mere photography could possibly achieve.
“He must have had a sense of humor,” comments one of his descendants, Mrs. Corazon Galang of Cubao, Quezon City. Compared to Capitan Ting’s, Malantic portraits look glum, somber and unsmiling. A quiet cheer or optimism pervades the canvases of the Master of Santa Cruz, especially when he painted women of all ages, of which the portrait of Dolores Paterno, the composer of the languid “Sampaguita,” in the Carmen Gabriel collection, is a fair example.

Good cheer

This optimism radiates with an inspired luster in a portrait of a favourite niece, Filomena Asuncion, a moon-faced beauty whom he painted with a robust sensuousness and a discreet smile ready to break out from her moist lips – a relief from the general uptightness of portraits by his contemporaries. This one, signed “J.A.” and dated 1860 carries a matter-of-fact notation, “A los 22 aῇos y 10 dias de edad,” as if to twit the vanity of human wishes, especially for recuerdos of one’s youth. In doing her portrait, perhaps the best he ever did, Capitan Ting raised the quality of lifelikeness to the level of trompe l’oeil.

His facility for the fool-the-eye lifelikeness was once put to a severe test when he chose for a model the image of no less a celebrity than Our Lady of Antipolo. The final version he did, now in the possession of a descendant who lives in Paco, is in pencil and opaque watercolour. Earlier versions were dismal failures. Each time he painted her the trompe l’oeil turned out gloriously for the rich gold embroidery of the cape and gown and the numerous diamonds that studded her apparel and the gold jewelry she wore from head to fingers. But he just could not get the cool, aristocratic face right. Somebody suggested the reason why she was so elusive was that he was not approaching her properly enough. He had better paint kneeling down, he was told. And that was how he painted the face in the final version, on his knees.

Two anecdotes show Capitan Ting’s humor to advantage, and both deal with his reputation as a magician of visual effects.

Gasps and giggles

He used to hang an oil painting on a wall in his house facing the street and visible to pedestrians (through an open door). Its purpose? To gull the unwary passerby into seeing a baby falling off a split-bamboo bed, or papag, as much as to draw gasps of amazement from the unsuspecting witness of the “accident” – and giggles from the painter and his household who were in on the joke, of course.

Another Capitan Ting fool-the-eye steals a leaf from the Zeuxis, that hyper-realistic painter of ancient Greece who was said to have painted a bunch of grapes so accurately that birds came to peck at them. For want of something better to do in his late years, he painted on the flat top of a wooden trunk, or baul, a scattering of coins painted with such finicky fidelity to the real thing that house guests would try to pick them up.

Did he leave any self-portrait?

Mrs. Galang recalls one which he painted of himself as a gaunt-looking old man with thinning gray hair, deep-set eyes, and mouth unceremoniously open. The children of her sister, who inherited the autoretrato, used to play with it as a means of scaring other kids in the neighbourhood with cries of “Mamaw!” When last heard of, it lay in the basement of her house, a rolled-up piece of canvas gathering dust. And now this sister thinks it might have been inadvertently thrown away.

Tracking them down

One of these days, a great grandnephew of Capitan Ting, Rafael Asuncion, a painter in his own right (whose father, Jose Asuncion, a painter of prewar renown, was the grandson of Leoncio Asuncion), intends to carry out an ambitious plan: a family reunion of all living Asuncions in an attempt to track down and recover extant works by their illustrious ancestor. “None of Lolo Ting’s relatives ever paid very much attention to his paintings,” confesses Mrs. Galang. “None of us ever imagined he would be historically important someday.”

What might yet turn up, if ever the project pushes through, is that missing self-portrait of an artist who is all but forgotten in our time and who, in his peak years, painted masterpieces which now deserve to be declared National Treasures.

A tale likely to be recounted in this planned grand reunion has to do with the last years of Capitan Ting in his Bulan retirement, the best I have heard yet.
His fighting cocks proved to be such persistent winners in the pit that in time (so the story goes) nobody wanted to put up a fight against his champions, as though they had charmed lives. So he decided to employ a little cunning. He changed the colors of his champions by dyeing (one version says “painting”) their feathers so nobody could recognize them, and this way managed to con his fellow cockers – a master of illusion, or deception, to the very end.


Transcribed from the clipping by Anna Rojas, September 28, 2017.



Filed under Art And Culture, Arts, Asuncion's History, Bulan Families, History, Uncategorized

Sorsogon mayor, municipal engineer sacked by Ombudsman

BULAN, Sorsogon, November 14, 2016 (Bicol Standard) — The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), through Regional Director Elouisa Pastor, has implemented earlier this week the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman finding respondents Mayor Helen C. De Castro and Engr. Toby C. Gonzales, Jr. guilty of Grave Misconduct.

Bulan, Sorsogon Mayor Helen De Castro
Photo via Padabaon ta an Sorsogon
The Order reads: “They are hereby meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualifications from holding public office and bar from taking civil service examination pursuant to Section 10, Rule III, Administrative Order No. 07, as amended by Administrative Order No. 17, in relation to Section 25 of Republic Act No. 6770.

In the event however, that the penalty of Dismissal can no longer be enforced due to respondents’ separation from the service, the penalty shall be converted into a Fine in an amount equivalent to respondents’ respective salary for one (1) year, payable to the Office of the Ombudsman, and may be deductible from the respondents’ retirement benefits, accrued leave credits or any receivable from their office.”

The complaint, which was filed by Romeo Valeriano, averred that “the construction of the Bulan Integrated Bus Terminal, and slaughterhouse, with project costs of P32,984,700.00 and P4, 991,900.00, respectively was tainted with various defects and irregularities.”

“Respondent Mayor De Castro issued a Certificate of Acceptance and Turn-over dated December 4, 2007, stating that the construction of the Bulan Integrated Bus Terminal was 100% complete when it was only 99.42% complete as of August 19, 2008. In other words, it had unaccomplished deficiency which is equivalent to P191,536.13 overpayment.”

“The construction of the bus terminal was excessive by 6,968,937.18 above the COA estimated cost of Php26,015,762.82,” the decision reads.

The Office of the Ombudsman said it found substantial evidence to hold De Castro and Gonzales, Jr. liable for Grave Misconduct.

Meanwhile, the complaint for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, Grave Abuse of Authority, Serious Dishonesty, and Grave Misconduct against respondents Dennis H. Dino, Rodosendo A. Razo, Jr., Sonia G. Revilla, Liza L. Hollon, Carmencita S. Morata, Orencio Luzuriaga was dismissed for lack of merit.

Bicol Standard


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Our History: The Marcos Legacy. ISINUKA NA, ISUSUBO PA ULI!

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by | April 29, 2016 · 1:18 pm

Otilia Olica Gustillo.. an Asuncion

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Pre-halloween Spooky Discovery

by budji


I went to research the paintings in this seminary (please see previous story). There is this very old religious painting, nearly 150 years old, of St. Anthony, The Abbot. This painting is said to be the work of Mariano Asuncion, El Menor (that ‘Junior’ for you 21st century people!) ca. 1865. But the painter’s signature and date cannot easily be seen in this oil-work.
The story of this saint is very interesting, he was born in the 3rd century in Egypt. He decided to become a hermit to devote his time contemplating and praying for God. He gave away his inheritance and as an ascetic, he was tempted for 20 years by the Devil. He was tempted with different forms, afflicting him with diseases, boredom, laziness, even phantoms of women, elementals, scary shadows, poltergeist, etc. One day, as he was always successful with his resistance of all these trials and temptations thru prayers and his faith in God, the devil actually had him beaten by his minions. The poor saint was found nearly dead inside the cave he was living in. In the CIN website here was the story goes: “When he began to come to himself, though not yet able to stand, he cried out to the devils whilst he yet lay on the floor, “Behold! here I am; do all you are able against me: nothing shall ever separate me from Christ my Lord.” Hereupon the fiends appearing again, renewed the attack, and alarmed him with terrible clamors and a variety of specters, in hideous shapes of the most frightful wild beasts, which they assumed. to dismay and terrify him; till a ray of heavenly light breaking in upon him chased them away, and caused him to cry out, “Where wast thou, my Lord and my Master? Why wast thou not here, from the beginning of my conflict, to assuage my pains!” A voice answered: “Anthony, I was here the whole time; I stood by thee, and beheld thy combat: and because thou hast manfully withstood thy enemies, I will always protect thee, and will render thy name famous throughout the earth.” The devil then ceased to tempt he no more. He then established a monastery as his ‘devotees’ had increased. After establishing the monastery he went back to the wilderness. St. Anthony, the Abbot is said to be the Father of Christian Monasticism. (source: Catholic Information Network)

The painting I saw was partly restored yet more has to be done as the back of the canvas was nearly covered in molds. We placed the painting on a chair fronting an open window since we cannot take any photo with flash bulb. We first took a photo of the painting then the back part to document the condition of the canvas. I was interested of the parts where the restoration was done, we then took the photo of the painting with its back on the light-source: daylight.

Now here is the tickler, when we got home to my parents’ house, I showed the photos to my sister, while we were intently looking at the 2nd photo, we noticed that more images of evils, elementals have appeared. And this 2nd picture shows about, as of last count, there are 6 more ‘evil-looking’ entities on the painting. There is even 1 more that seemed to have appeared on the back of the canvas!! From the front the painter has painted 7 including the yellow crocodile and the blond woman. The ‘tikbalang’ is more like a shadow but the figure of a horse still appears. Anyway, we think there are 6 more in the ‘shadows’ plus the one at the back!!

One can only surmise what was going on to the painter while this painting was being painted! That question wasnt raised by me, but of the person very much familiar to the painting. I had the same thought, mind you. If you are not convinced about my ‘superstitious’ findings (and not scholarly, mind you! So I hope I am excused by all scholars and academicians, esp. by my professor) I hope you will indulge me. Its just the ‘gossipy’ side of me thinking of these things.

So judge for yourself! Happy Halloween!


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Indonesian Soldiers, be gentlemen, don’t shoot Mary Jane Veloso!



VelosoYes, you are not at war with Mary Jane Veloso, she is not your enemy! So please don’t shoot somebody who hasn’t killed anybody, who hasn’t hurt anybody and who was not proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This is unfair to a fragile human who did not commit a crime to humanity to be shot by a handful of men with their rifles. How could you ever overkill a woman like Mary Jane Veloso? This act would be over barbaric! Consider the human in you and the grave insult to all of you soldiers  and to all your Indonesian women if you would shoot a helpless woman and mother of two little boys. veloso sons

Be a fair neighbor, Indonesia. In the Philippines, we try criminals and corrupt politicians, imprison when proven guilty but we don’t kill them by firing squad anymore. A brutal and undifferentiated  justice system wouldn’t sustain a modern society. The death of Mary Jane would only quench the bloody thirst of a few people in Indonesia, but it would never put Indonesia morally forward, Indonesia would never be a wonderful democratic nation after her death or a model of humanity. So don’t pull the triggers, soldiers! Be gentlemen.

I ask President Joko Widodo and the Attorney General  to be  gentle and consider other  civilized punishment than death through firing squad. Likewise, her death would never make you better people and leaders of Indonesia. Respect a mother, don’t kill her. Killing a human being is an insult to all Religions!

Peace be with you- and to Mary Jane Veloso and her family


jun asuncion



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Asuncion Grand Reunion 2015

The Asuncion Grand Reunion 2015  shall be held today at Times Street starting at 4:00 p.m. All relatives are invited to join. It is potluck and shall start with a mass.

The organizer is Sor Marissa Asuncion.


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