“The narrative is swift and persuasive.”
Prolific writer Saul Hofileña Jr. regales us once more with a gripping historical narrative in his latest work “Luna, Arquitecto,” a biography of the architect Andres Luna de San Pedro, famed painter Juan Luna’s only son.
While the book delves into de San Pedro’s life, there is also an extensive discussion here on the Juan Luna trial for the killing of his wife and mother-in-law in Paris in 1892.
In his latest book, the author of the critically acclaimed “Under the Stacks,” a collection of historical essays, does not mince words. A professor of law and a practicing lawyer for 35 years, the author of several law books, Hofileña dissects with clinical accuracy and candor the reason why Juna Luna, the greatest Filipino painter of the 19th century, was acquitted by a Paris court despite the fact that he almost fatally shot his brother-in-law and killed his mother-in-law and his wife.
Hofileña begins his narrative with the story of an 18th-century engraving of a monument in Intramuros built to honor the memory of a colonel who sailed the seas on board the ships Descubierta and Atrevida, to illustrate the remoteness of Badoc, the hometown of the Luna family, from Manila.
He then outlines the early life of Juan Luna in Manila and in Villa Dupont in Paris where he lived with his in-laws, the Pardo de Taveras.
In the middle of his narrative, the book answers Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera’s rhetorical question: “I can understand why he killed my sister, but why my mother?”
Indeed, the author asks, why two and not one? Armed with his trial lawyering experience, Hofileña answers the question in a convincing way, with the use of logical and legal arguments peppered with historical references.
His narrative is swift and persuasive and, according to Justice Jose Catral Mendoza of the Supreme Court, “deftly puts to rest a controversy that has rankled historians and the best legal minds.”
About this book, National Artist for Literature Dr. Resil Mojares commented that although de San Pedro’s parents were famous – his mother was Paz of the noted Pardo de Tavera clan – Andres “sits in the shadows.” But no longer.
In the book, we learn that after the twin murders of his mother and grandmother at the hands of his father, Andres Luna became a student in Paris and later an architect to the rich and famous. He built the magnificent prewar structure called the Crystal Arcade but lost ownership of it after a series of litigations.
National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose writes that after he read the book, he recalled a visit he made to the Crystal Arcade in 1938 – “unforgettable,” he called it. “I was going up the Escolta from Plaza Goiti…when there it was – the fabulous entrance, the high arch studded, [it] seemed, with huge diamonds, [a] marble floor and on both sides the gorgeous stories I was too awed to enter.”
For those into art history, Hofileña translated a speech made by Andres Luna de San Pedro where Andres said that his father made two copies of the “Spoliarium” and one of them ended up in Russia in the hands of a Russian potentate.
He also writes about Grace McCrea, Andres Luna’s American wife, who was imprisoned in the Santo Tomas concentration camp and after the war received the Asia-Pacific Campaign Ribbon by order of General MacArthur himself.
Hofileña also tells us of another tragedy which befell Andres Luna—the battlefield death of his son by a French woman.
But why did Andres Luna use the surname “de San Pedro” throughout his life? Hofileña answers this question and many others in Luna, Arquitecto.
In all, he has succeeded in removing the mystery surrounding the life of Andres Luna de San Pedro, and in so doing, has revealed to us the story of our nation, and the importance of the built environment to art, culture, and history.
As Hofileña writes in his epilogue: “The destruction of heritage structures wipes out a nation’s collective memory. Each piece of stone, each slab of wood, every rusting piece of iron that holds up historic buildings speak of a nation’s history…Listen to the venerable walls speak, they tell you who we are.”
This book is a must read for those interested in Philippine history, art, law, and architecture, and is a page-turner from beginning to end. It is available at Solidaridad Bookshop, Yuchengco Museum, and Fully Booked.
Dr. Ortuoste is a multi-awarded writer, editor, and researcher. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO