Now, on its smooth opening, by appointment, sits a transformed Ayala Museum. Completed after a two-year renovation, the former Greenbelt Hall 4 is now the expansive lobby of the museum. An electronic board monitors the museum’s collection, presented with an actual altarpiece once in a church in Leyte.

Upstairs is the inaugural exhibition, “Transpacific Engagements: Commerce, Translation and Visual Culture of Entangled Empires (1565-1898). Organized by Florina H. Capistrano-Baker and Meha Priyadarshini, it highlights ivory and other extraordinary objects made or used in the Philippines or shipped from here during the Spanish regime. Some are on loan from abroad, briefly returning to Manila for the first time since leaving centuries ago.

A large volume of essays presents the context of the exhibition.

The Pacific Ocean was a Spanish lake from 1565 when Fray Andres de Urdaneta discovered the ocean currents that carried people and goods between Asia and North America, until 1815 when Mexico gained independence and the end of the galleon trade.

Dr. Ricardo Padrón’s essay on a remarkable 1751 map drawn by Vicente de Memije and engraved by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay perfectly sums up the Spanish presence. Title Symbolic aspect of the Hispanic world, it depicts the Spanish Empire which encompassed the Americas and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

THE SPANISH EMPIRE ON A MAP OF THE WORLD Aspecto Symbólico del Mundo Hispánico by Vicente Laureano de Memije, 1761 (British Library)

The empire is represented as a woman. His crowned head is on Iberia and his feet on the Philippines. The jewels on her necklace are Spanish galleons and the pendant is a compass rose. The Americas are a shawl. The pleats of her skirt are formed by the westward and eastward routes of Spanish ships. Luzon is his right shoe design and Mindanao is his left. The equator is a staff resting near the Philippines and bearing the Spanish flag with a cross at its end. The Philippines, known to everyone as being in the Far East, is the far west – Islas del Poniente or Western Islands – when it comes to Spain.

Other essays focus on material culture, notably on Chinese export painting and ivory santos carved here or in Goa and Macao, for export to the Americas and Europe or for homes and churches in Philippines. Other essays cover textiles, cuisine, politics, religion, commerce and related fields, including one on Bian Zhengjiao Zhenchuan Shilu by Juan Cobo, the second oldest book printed in the Philippines.

After the galleon trade ended, Spanish colonial policy in the Philippines encouraged commercial agriculture (sugar, coffee, coconut, abaca) and opened Manila to international trade. European and American trading houses have opened their shops. The Manila Railway was built by the British. Notably, ideas for reform and independence came from Europe and Latin America.

The 333 years covered by the exhibit weren’t exactly peaceful. The Dutch fought their War of Independence against Spain (1568-1648) in the Philippines, as did the British during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The long-standing enmity between Britain and Spain also explains the capture of four galleons loaded with goods or money by Thomas Cavendish (1589), Woodes Rogers (1709) and George Anson (1743 and 1762). In the 19th century, the United States forcibly ended the isolation of Japan and began to take over Hawaii.

Other Europeans are also eyeing the South Pacific. English captain James Cook led three voyages (1768-1779), reaching Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. In the 19th century, the French captured islands still known as French Polynesia. It was also the era of romantic sailing ships and New England whalers (remember Captain Ahab and the white whale Moby Dick).

In the arts, Japanese woodcuts by Hiroshige, Utamaro and others influenced Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas. Paul Gauguin embarked for Tahiti in 1891 where he produced some of his masterpieces.

The most important trade items that crossed the Pacific were the silks worn by European nobility and the porcelain that still adorns European palaces, paid for in silver ears, coins and ingots mined and minted. in Latin America. The Spaniards also aimed to make the Philippines a base for the conversion of Asia. At the beginning of the 17th century, San Lorenzo Ruiz and many others suffered martyrdom in Japan. People in hiding found refuge in Manila, and high-ranking Daimyo Takayama Ukon died in exile in Manila.

The exhibit doesn’t linger there, but Baker and Priyadarshini have brought together a spectacular array of ivory religious images and fabulous elite possessions in this unique spectacle.

(to be continued)

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