MANILA, Philippines?Before he was put to death at age 35 by the Spanish colonial authorities in 1896, the national hero Jose Rizal had romanced and conquered the hearts of a succession of 10 women, according to several Filipino historians.
Quite a feat for a young man who stood no more than 4?11? tall. Leon Ma. Guerrero, author of the award-winning Rizal biography, ?The First Filipino,? essays an explanation for Rizal?s early interest in the opposite sex, noting how he grew up in a family of nine sisters and one brother.
?Boys who are brought up among sisters are not usually noted for their virility but Jose, either by way of compensation or because he had been kept so long in boarding school away from feminine company, displayed an early interest in it,? Guerrero wrote.
According to Dr. Pablo Trillana III, the author of ?The Loves of Rizal? (2000), in his love affairs the hero?s popular image as a demigod is stripped and he is revealed to be human after all.
?He gave and received affection and, like everyone else, felt the joy, anguish or regret of Cupid?s arrow,? said Trillana, a former chair of the National Historical Institute.
Portraits of loves
To help readers of his book visualize the 10 women?s physical attributes, Trillana asked the renowned priest-artist Armand Tangi of the Society of St. Paul to paint portraits of the women based on his manuscript, Rizal?s description of them in his letters and notes, faded black-and-white photographs of some of the women, and interviews with some of Rizal?s living descendants.
In all, Tangi produced 12 portraits, including one of Rizal?s mother, Teodora Alonzo, and the painting titled ?Motherland? which shows a woman holding a dying Rizal, after Michaelangelo?s ?Pieta.?
The portraits are displayed at the Yuchengco Museum at the RCBC building on Ayala Avenue in Makati City. RCBC acquired the paintings after they were put on exhibit at the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines and in Batangas by businessman Danny Dolor.
Two of the women?Leonor Rivera and Josephine Bracken?are thought by historians to have been his greatest loves.
The first woman
The others were Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga, O Sei San, Gertrude Beckette, Nelly Boustead and Suzanne Jacoby.
The 10th woman, possibly the first to have captured Rizal?s romantic imagination, was Julia, a 14-year-old girl that he met in Los Baños, Laguna. She was ?vibrant yet modest, oval faced, and olive skinned, and blessed with simple beauty,? Trillana wrote in his book.
Trillana said he got to know about Julia from a book written by historian Carlos Quirino, the national artist for historical literature. None of the other Rizal biographers mention Julia.
Rizal was only 15 when he first saw Julia by accident in a river in Los Baños a few days after Easter in 1877. She was wearing a red wraparound skirt.
?Julia could not catch the butterfly she was chasing. Rizal, ever gallant, caught two,? Trillana wrote.
?Heart beating with strange fondness, [Rizal] offered her the butterflies and she laughed with innocent pleasure.?
He was instantly attracted to her. But for lack of subsequent contact, Rizal eventually forgot Julia whose surname was never known.
Rizal next met Segunda Katigbak, a charming girl from Lipa, Batangas. She was his puppy love, according to Trillana. Unfortunately, Segunda was already engaged and set to wed a townmate, Manuel Luz.
After Katigbak came Leonor Valenzuela, a girl from Pagsanjan, Laguna, but according to another book, ?Jose Rizal, the Filipino Hero? by Jose Ma. Hernandez, Esteban Ocampo and Zosimo Ella, she was from Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Rizal met Valenzuela in Intramuros where her family lived in a house near the dormitory where he was staying. He sent her love notes written in invisible ink that could be read only over the flame of a lamp or a candle.
Girlfriend for 11 years
Almost simultaneously, Rizal was meeting another Leonor. The girl, Leonor Rivera, would be his girlfriend for the next 11 years. The two were distant cousins, according to the book ?Jose Rizal, the Genius,? written by the Hernandez-De Ocampo-Ella trio.
Rivera was to him his ideal woman, his model for Maria Clara, one of the main characters in his first novel, ?Noli Me Tangere.? He was ready to marry her. Unfortunately, Rivera?s mother disliked Rizal who was then earning the reputation of being a dissident. The two last saw each other before Rizal left for Spain in May 1882.
The mother hid from Rivera all the letters that Rizal was sending from Spain. After a passage of many years, thinking that Rizal had abandoned her, Rivera sadly consented to marry Henry Kipping, an Englishman who was her mother?s choice. Rizal was said to have cried shamelessly when news of the wedding reached him.
Rivera never got to know that Rizal loved her just as much and that the thought of her prevented him from having a serious relationship with any of the women he encountered in Europe?Ortiga, Beckette, Boustead and Jacoby.
Rizal met Ortiga, the prettier of Don Pablo Ortiga?s two daughters, in Madrid. She fell in love with him after only a few dates. He dedicated to her ?A la Senorita C.O. y R,? possibly one of his best poems. But he withdrew before the romance could turn serious.
While in London, Rizal stayed in the house of the Beckette family, located a few meters away from the British Museum where he was researching his book.
Gertrude, the oldest of the three Beckette daughters, was a blue-eyed and buxom girl. She quickly fell in love with Rizal and helped him with his paintings and sculptures. But he left her for the same reason that he ended the romance with Ortiga.
Having lost Leonor Rivera, Rizal entertained thoughts of courting another woman, this time in France, sometime in 1888. She was Nelly Boustead, one of two daughters of his host, Eduardo Boustead, in the resort city of Biarritz.
Rizal used to practice fencing with the Boustead sisters at the studio of Juan Luna whose brother Antonio also courted Nelly (other accounts spell her name as Nellie) but she seemed to have favored Rizal.
The Rizal-Boustead love affair also did not last long. It failed because Rizal rejected Nelly?s request for him to convert to the Protestant faith. Nelly?s mother also did not like to have as a son-in-law a physician with not enough paying clients. The lovers parted as good friends when Rizal left Paris in 1889.
In 1890, Rizal moved to Brussels because of the high cost of living in Paris. There he lived in a boarding house owned by Suzanne Jacoby and her sister. Rizal and Suzanne fell deeply in love. Suzanne cried when Rizal left Brussels without informing her, only later receiving a letter saying he was already in Madrid.
On his second trip to Europe in 1888, Rizal stopped by Japan where he met O Sei San, a lovely and intelligent daughter of a samurai. If all he wanted was a good life, he would have married O Sei San and stayed on in Japan because a Spanish legation there was offering him a well-paying job. But he left Japan because he thought he was destined for a greater task in the Philippines and had to go home. In a letter, he said of her: ?O Sei San, O Sei San, sayonara. No woman, like you, has ever loved me ??
While on exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga, in early February 1895, Rizal met an 18-year-old petite Irish girl, with bold blue eyes, brown hair and a happy disposition. She was Josephine Bracken, the adopted daughter of George Taufer who had traveled to Dapitan from Hong Kong to have his eye treated by Rizal.
Rizal was immediately attracted to Josephine. He called her ?dulce estranjera,? or sweet foreigner. The loneliness and boredom of exile may have taken its toll as he found himself falling in love quite easily. However, Rizal?s sisters suspected Josephine of being a spy for the Spanish authorities and a threat to his security.
There is some disagreement among historians as to whether Rizal and Bracken, who lived together as man and wife, ever got married.
Josephine was soon pregnant but suffered a miscarriage. The couple adopted a child named Maria Luisa, but Josephine decided to return the girl to her parents who wanted her back, according to a letter that Josephine wrote to Rizal on Sept. 22, 1896.
Aurora Ver Gonzalez, a granddaughter of Rizal?s eldest sister Saturnina, showed Josephine?s letter to Trillana when he was writing his book.
Who among the 10 women was the most beautiful?
Trillana thinks it was Leonor Rivera. Tangi says Rizal appeared to go for girls with a prominent jaw. Because Rizal was so short, all the girls, except for Valenzuela, are presumed to be petite.
How he won them
How he managed to win them over, Trillana ascribes to Rizal?s ?impeccable manners and gift of gab, not to mention good looks and innate charm.?
?The [women] came at varying crossroads in Rizal?s life. And with varying passion and devotion, he would remember each in his heart and works,? he said.