Fifty Shades of Philippine Art: Damián Domingo


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Fifty Shades of Philippine Art: Damián Domingo
by Luciano P.R. Santiago

Damián Domingo was a self-taught master artist from Tondo whose skilled hand and distinctly Philippine style made him a highly sought-after painter of official portraits and religious tableaus. His albums of colorful tipos del país immortalized the diverse costumes and lifestyles of early nineteenth-century Philippines. It was this expertise and acclaim that led to a trailblazing career as an art teacher and director of the first Philippine art academy. By making painting a subject for formal study, Domingo managed to elevate its status as an art form in the Philippines, thus raising the esteem and respect accorded to Filipino painters. It was perhaps appropriate to his catalytic role in this stage of Philippine art history that Domingo also painted the earliest known self-portrait by a Filipino artist.

This lushly illustrated book explores the artist’s life and historical milieu through meticulous and engaging scholarship. His surviving masterpieces, including his rediscovered self-portrait, are reproduced in pristine detail, along with selected works from his contemporaries and successors in the art world. These artistic elements are arranged into a vivid portrait of a man who laid the foundations of Western art in the Philippines.

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Damián Domingo had almost no peer among his contemporaries as a painter in both miniature and large scale. Beyond his stunning religious tableaus and finely rendered portraits, his enduring legacy was manifest in the influence he had on his colleagues and students, and in his unusual collaboration with a foreign associate that produced the albums of tipos del país.

At a time when painting was commonly viewed as a craft or trade instead of a high art, Domingo chose not to keep “trade secrets” to himself, but to share them with as many younger artists as possible, through the first known art school in the country as well as the first in the Western tradition in Asia. On his own he developed a style comparable to that of an academically trained artist in the Spanish tradition, with a distinctly indigenous flair. The “Spanish” style that Domingo taught could be more aptly considered Filipino style, having evolved in the Philippines and distilled from the experiences of native artists over the centuries. While teaching, he also continued to develop himself as an artist, as seen by his shift from miniature to large scale painting.

Damián Domingo was an era-defining artist who presided over a major turning point for art in the country. By declaring painting a subject for formal instruction, he raised it to the plane of the noble arts, enabling Filipino painters to elevate their social standing. His school invigorated the Philippine art world of the early nineteenth century.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A psychiatrist by profession with a degree from the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine and years of professional practice in the United States and Manila, Dr. Luciano P.R. Santiago devoted much time over the years to archival research. His work has provided the material for his numerous books and articles on Philippine art, history, culture, genealogy and other subjects. He was the recipient of a Toyota International Research Grant, which enabled him to conduct his researches in the archives of Spain and the Vatican.

His accolades and awards include the National Book Award for History and for Art, the Premio Manuel Bernabé for History, the Pedro Villaseñor Award for Genealogy, and the Catholic Press Award, among others. He was also a distinguished medical writer, having been published in local and foreign scholarly journals and received the Wendell Muncie Prize for Distinguished Writing in Psychiatry.

His other books and writings include The Hidden Light: The First Filipino Priests (1987), The Art of Ancestor Hunting in the Philippines (1990), Stars of Peace: The Talangpaz Sisters (2001), Laying the Foundations: Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church 1592–2001 (2002), To Love and to Suffer: The Development of the Religious Congregations for Women.

 

ABOUT THE SERIES

50 Shades of Philippine Art is a series of affordable and concisely written books on fine, modern, or popular art. Among its titles are Isabelo Tampinco by Santiago Pilar (2018), Toti Cerda by Laya Boquiren (2019), Francisco V. Coching by Andrea Peterson (2019), and Philippine Cinematic Art (2020) by Christopher Datol, Andrea Peterson, Gaspar A. Vibal, and Nick Lajom.

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