The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son
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The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son

A description and explanation of Felix Hidalgo's masterpiece, The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son.

They say that art is a reflection of the times, and in the case of Master artist Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo and his masterpiece, the saying holds true.

Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, along with contemporary Juan Luna, garnered fame and respect in the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 with his painting entitled "The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son." Hidalgo won a silver medal for his work while Luna bagged the gold medal for his painting, the "Spoliarium." Both paintings are now honored as National Cultural Treasures because of their contribution to the development of art in the Philippines. 

"The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son" is an oil on canvas painting. It is more tall than it is wide, so when you look at it in person, it seems to be looming over you, eager to tell its tale. The painting is busy with dynamic action, as the canvas is filled with people showing how a mob is assaulting the central character, Governor Bustamante. The painting is beautiful, to be sure. But beyond the technique lies a story that gives the painting more meaning.

The painting is actually a depiction of a specific historical event in the Philippines during the period of Spanish colonization. According to some history books, Governor-General Bustamante, in an effort to run a clean government clashed with the Archbishop of Manila named Fernando dela Cuesta, who had a habit of protecting the corrupt government officials. Because of the Archbishop's actions, Bustamante had the the former detained, which roused violent reactions from the clergymen. To show their support for their Archbishop, Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian friars all gathered together and headed to the Palacio del Gobernador and began a rampage.

Study of Governor Bustamante / Wikimedia common/public domain

The Governor-General's guards fled, leaving him vulnerable to the approaching mass of friars and was left to his own devices. It was said that at the palace, one particular friar tried to breach the gap between the friars and the Bustamante. To protect himself, Bustamante fired his gun at that friar. Unfortunately, the flint was unable to spark and rendered the gun useless.

This event gave the friars enough motivation to attack the governor who was only left with his bayonet to protect himself. The governor-general tried fight off the priests, but they were just too many. Soon enough, he was defeated by the friars who kept striking him with their weapons. Governor Bustamante's son, upon hearing of the event, arrived in the palace on his horse but was also attacked by the insurgents. Like his father, the son tried to fight off the friars but he was soon outnumbered and was killed. 

This sad story in history was beautifully depicted by National Artist Hidalgo, showing not only the violence that occurred in history but also a commentary of that particular time. This painting made a statement about the relationship between the Church and the government, hinting at the power of the Church over the government of that time. 

This painting, which is declared a National Treasure of the Philippines, can be found in the Hall of the Masters in The National Museum of the Philippines alongside Juan Luna's masterpiece, The Spoliarium. 

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