Rizal’s self-portraits late 19th century’s selfies
It may interest the digital generation that Jose Rizal took two selfies without a cell phone or digicam.
He did the next best thing in the late 19th century—he drew himself with a pencil on paper. The first selfie remains unlocated and is believed to have been one of the cultural casualties of the Battle of Manila in 1945. The other is in a museum north of Prague in the Czech Republic.
If Rizal had a cell phone, he would have taken selfies. If Rizal had a cell phone, he would not have churned out the 25 volumes of writing that fueled the academic cottage industries more than a century after his death.
Rizal is perhaps one of the most photographed historical figures of 19th-century Philippines.
From his earliest photograph at age 13, when he was a schoolboy at Ateneo Municipal, to the time he was executed at 35 in Bagumbayan, the national hero left us with visual images from his youth to manhood, from indio to Filipino.
Most reproduced photo
His most reproduced photo, the one from which all Rizal monuments throughout the archipelago are based, was taken by Enrique Debas in Madrid in 1890 when he was 29.
It seems to have been Rizal’s favorite, among a handful of studio portraits taken while he was abroad, so he planned to publish this on the title page of his second novel, “El Filibusterismo” (1891), but he changed his mind to save on printing costs.
While all of Rizal’s photographs are in black and white, we are fortunate that his portrait was painted by his friends Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Telesforo Sucgang, providing us with a likeness in color.
Rizal as teenager
What is not well known is that Rizal took two selfies.
The first was drawn sometime in his last years as a high school student at Ateneo Municipal or his early years as a college student at the University of Santo Tomas.
Teenaged Rizal posed shirtless in front of a mirror and drew an idealized self-portrait that has only survived in photographic reproductions because the original was lost or destroyed during the Battle of Manila in 1945.
The second selfie is preserved in the South Bohemian Museum in Ceské Budejovice, in the Czech Republic. The existence of this selfie was first documented by the late former Philippine Ambassador to Switzerland Modesto Farolan in the mid-1960s.
In the 1930s, the heirs of Ferdinand Blumentritt sold their father’s collection of Rizaliana to the National Library of the Philippines but kept a few souvenirs. These included the Rizal selfie and a sketch of Blumentritt by Juan Luna.
The Rizal selfie was drawn for Blumentritt sometime in late November or early December 1886 when Rizal was 25 years old.
After completing his medical studies in Madrid, Heidelberg and Paris, Rizal traveled around Europe with his friend Maximo Viola before he returned to the Philippines in the summer of 1887. The itinerary of this tour included five days in Litomerice, then part of Austria.
‘Sketch of myself’
Rizal was to meet his friend Blumentritt face to face for the first time in May 1887 so he sent this selfie ahead of his arrival, in a letter on Dec. 9, 1886, saying:
“Enclosed is a sketch of myself that I am sending you as an advance. It is said that it has a certain resemblance to me, but I am not sure if it really has. As soon as I have a good photograph, I will send it to you. Those that I have are all retouched or badly taken.”
To celebrate the friendship between the Czech Republic and the Philippines, a full documentation of the Blumentritt collection can be made available to Filipino scholars, or perhaps an exhibit of the originals in Manila will materialize soon.
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