Esteban Pichay Villanueva, Basi Revolt Paintings
Esteban Villanueva’s mark in Ilocano history and the
Philippine art scene was indelibly made with his
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
the Ilocanos 14 years prior to the commissioning of the
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
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
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.