Julius Legaspi’s Theotokos

(Our Lady of Vladimir, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 by Julius Legaspi. This original work was lost, probably to a prayerful thief in 2014)

Make no mistake about it. If heaven has an art gallery, expect to find a Julius Legaspi painting hanging on its walls. The somber tone, the simplicity of the composition, the soft glow in the colors, especially in his pastel paintings, make Julius Legaspi’s work mirror the qualities of the perfect and divine. One can spend countless hours extracting all the aesthetic merits from of his work without exhausting them. The man has a clear disdain for the prosaic and the cliche, and given his youth, Julius Legaspi should be around for many years with the chance to crack the world art circles.

In his recent exhibition at the Gateway Gallery in Cubao, Julius placed his pastel reproduction of the image of the Our Lady of Vladimir at the center panel. It was like an apparition. The image took me back to the days when my late mother was carrying around this novena book with the Virgin Mother’s sad-looking expression that always made me curious.

But at the sight of Julius’s rendition, the answer came to me as if whispered by the Virgin herself, it is the Virgin Mother’s face when she found Jesus at the temple. From the Gospel of St. Luke, the story is told when the Child Jesus was left behind in the temple unknown to Mary and Joseph who had been traveling back home for a day when they discovered the Child Jesus was missing. When the Virgin Mother found Child Jesus at the temple, she admonished him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you?” And the Child Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Julius said he once did an oil reproduction of the Theotokos, the name used to call the Mother of God in Eastern Christianity, from an image he found in Maestro Fernando Sena’s works. But the gallery lost the image, probably to theft (oh by such prayerful thief!) and so he decided to make a new one for his latest show.

The Theotokos of Vladimir has a rich history and its original maker is unknown, albeit tradition has it that it was St. Luke who made it from the real subjects. The image was brought to Vladimir in 1155 and then moved Moscow. It is said that Moscow was saved from certain ruin by an attack from the Tartars in 1451 and 1480 by the prayers for the intercession of the Virgin. This is similar to the belief in the intercession of the Virgin Mother that saved the Spanish navy from the Dutch forces in the Battle of Lepanto in October 7, 1571 that led to the Philippine devotion to the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila.

The devotion to the Virgin Mother is deeply-rooted in Philippine tradition and has found its way in various forms. Didn’t the fabled Ginebra San Miguel professional basketball team coached by the legendary Robert Jaworski use to end their huddles with the prayer, “Our Lady of Victory”? The Ateneo de Manila University’s alma mater song sung to the tune of the Canadian anthem is a paean to Mary. It is also not uncommon to find businessmen and executives wearing an October medal of the Virgin Mother as a testament to the their devotion with a back story waiting to be told on how in their darkest hours the Virgin Mother came to their rescue.

Julius Legaspi’s foray into religious art, the only one in the show, which showcased other themes and subjects, also highlighted his humility and discipline as an artist. He stayed faithful to the traditional image, in spite of his creative powers. An ordinary artist would have messed it up, but Julius, consistent with his reputation for creating simple and powerful images remained faithful to the image, and in the process created a masterpiece.

Tolstoy would have approved. The presence of the Theotokos by Julius Legaspi evokes the feeling of a child once separated from his mother and finding she has returned. Nothing could be more comforting.

Author: Leon de Pola

Semiotician by profession. Philosopher by vocation.

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