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Esteban Pichay Villanueva, Basi Revolt Paintings


Esteban Villanueva’s mark in Ilocano history and the Philippine art scene was indelibly made with his creation of the fourteen paintings of the Basi Revolt that is now housed in the Father Burgos Museum.
This simple farmer, born in Vigan in 1797, was asked to produce paintings on the Basi Revolt that was waged by the Ilocanos 14 years prior to the commissioning of the paintings.

The Basi Revolt happened in 1807, when rebel Ilocanos marched from all over the north to overthrow the Spaniards governing in Vigan. This revolt was brought about by Spain’s move to forbid the production and sale of the local wine, basi. They wanted a monopoly of the goods that can be supplied by Spain through its maritime trade via Acapulco, which included wine.

The Basi Revolt lasted for 13 days and ended with the execution of the rebels in the neighboring town of San Vicente, along its river bank.

The north being a hotbed of rebellion, the Spanish Government wanted the paintings done to ensure that the people remember the revolt’s bloody end and make them think twice about future uprisings.

Villanueva was not schooled in painting, but in 1821 he produced fourteen oil paintings with the use of water color brushes and plenty of earth colors, dominant of which is red. The canvasses were 91.44 x 91.44 and depicted the scenes of the Basi Revolt in a two-dimensional way, using a perspective that the artist found in his environment. His figures evoke the images of carved religious statues and his Spaniards were shown to be much bigger than the locals that he painted in the picture.

However, his naďve style of painting is significant because of two things. His subject, unlike those that dominate prior Philippine painting periods, was secular and not religious. Although he patterned his 14 panels after the stations of the cross.

The other is that even though the intent of the commissioning of the paintings was to suppress further rebellion, Esteban Villanueva’s paintings actually showed that the painter wanted the people who viewed his work to continue to hope for the coming of victory. He painted Halley’s Comet in his panels. The appearance of a comet according to local belief signals the coming of a revolution. This local thinking was strengthened by the comet’s appearance before the revolt led by Diego Silang and his wife Gabriela.

Esteban Villanueva’s panels were thankfully found in the family’s storeroom in the 1950s, providing as now with artwork that fuse folk belief with history.