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Rizal as a Painter in Dapitan
In Dapitan, Rizal demonstrated his talent for painting. Before the Holy Week of 1894, Father Vicente Balaguer, a young Jesuit parish priest, was worried. He needed a good backdrop (canvas oil painting behind the main altar) for the annual Lenten celebration. In his native city of Barcelona, Spain, a church had one that showed a colonnaded court, viewed from a wide open gate- a scene depicting the court of Pontius Pilate.

Upon hearing of Rizalís painting ability, Father Balaguer went to Talisay to talk with the exiled doctor. He was accompanied by a convent helper named Leoncio Sagario.

"Doctor," he told Rizal, "I need your help. I would like to have a beautiful backdrop behind the church altar that shows the spirit of the Holy Week. Iíve in mind something similar to one in a church in Barcelona."

Father Balaguer made some rough sketches as he described the backdrop in the Barcelona church. " Can you paint in oil such a picture on a huge canvas, Doctor?" he asked.

"Iíll try, Father. You see, I havenít done any painting for many years, but Iíll do my best."

The following day, Rizal went to the Jesuit priest, bringing his own sketch based on the latterís ideas. Father Balaguer was satisfied and urged Rizal to begin the painting job at once.

The actual painting of the backdrop was a difficult task. Rizal obtained the help of two assistants-Sister Agustina Montoya, a Filipina nun from Cavite who could paint, and Francisco Almirol, a native painter of Dapitan.

The trio-Rizal, Sister Montoya, and Almirol- made the sacristy of the church as their workshop. Rizal sketched in soft pencil the general outline of the picture, after which his two assistants applied the oil colors.

Daily, Rizal supervised the work of his assistants. He himself put the finishing touches. He was glad to note that he still had the skill in painting.

Father Balaguer was very much satisfied with the finished oil painting of the backdrop. " Beautiful, very beautiful," he said. He warmly thanked Rizal and his two assistants for the work well done.

The gorgeous backdrop became a precious possession of the Dapitan church- Santiago Church. It was truly a masterpiece.

Senate President Manuel L. Quezon saw Rizalís painting masterpiece during his visit to Dapitan. He was deeply impressed by its majestic beauty. At one time General Leonard Wood, governor-general of the Philippines, saw it and said that it was truly "a Rizalian legacy".

After the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the beautiful backdrop was sent to the Museum of the Ateneo de Manila for safekeeping.

Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Second World War when fires and bombs razed the city of Manila.


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