Cornell University

Fernando Amorsolo: Master Painter of Philippine Sunlight and Elite Conceptions of Nature

Monday, December 4, 2023 at 12:20pm

Rockefeller Hall, 374
Central Campus

Gatty Lecture Series

Join us for a talk by Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz, (Visiting Scholar, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University), who will discuss the relationship between the elite class and nature through close analysis of the Philippines fine arts.

This Gatty Lecture will take place at the Rockefeller Hall 374. Lunch will be served. For questions, contact

About the Talk

Known as the ‘master of Philippine sunlight,’ Fernando Amorsolo is the painter most associated with the Philippine landscape and Philippine pastoral, bringing to both a decided innocence, if not sunlit grace. More than merely formal experimentation with light, however, Amorsolo is canonical because of the distinctly national-pastoral conceptions his work elaborates. Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Fernando Zóbel de Ayala are regularly recognized as the three masters of Philippine fine arts. Their works dominate the Philippine canon and, by extension, elite notions of Philippine art. However Amorsolo’s particularizing of the (tropical) place of the Philippines separates him from his colleagues.

An anti-colonial, nationalistic celebration of precolonial, inherent “goodness”—a vision of a simple kind of goodness that I argue is explicitly tied to nature—charged Amorsolo’s works as well as his popular national reception. The American colonial period during the 1920s-30s sparked a wave of national nostalgia for the Filipino pastoral life, with Tagalog songs and Spanish poetry eulogizing the simple, happy barrio life that seemed to be increasingly receding. Amorsolo was part of this wave, which drew on the thwarted independence struggle of the Philippine Revolution, societal reaction to and cultural dislocations across the transition from Spanish to American colonialism, and ongoing political debates surrounding independence. Yet, despite round praise for his “democratic” art and celebration of the common Filipino, Amorsolo’s idea of goodness has deep connection to an underlying elitism in Philippine society and contributes to Amorsolo’s appeal among the elite class. In particular, his elitist vision of the good as grounded in nature had consequences for human relationships with the natural environment, while also being itself a result of existing class relationships with nature. This talk seeks to analyze the relationship between the elite class and nature through close analysis of Amorsolo’s landscape and genre painting.

About the Speaker

Originally from the Philippines, Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz is an Associate at Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge and a Visiting Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University. In 2022, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She was also formerly a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and earned her Ph.D. in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University. Her broad research interests center on global intellectual history and Southeast Asian environmental and social history. Her first book, Asian Place, Filipino Nation: A Global Intellectual History of the Philippine Revolution, 1887-1912, published by Columbia University Press in June 2020, charts the emplotment of ‘place’ in the proto-national thought and revolutionary organising of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Filipino thinkers. Her current research analyzes the co-constitution of class and relationships with the natural environment over the 19th to the 20th centuries in the Philippines. Her research has appeared in the American Historical Review, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, and Philippine Studies, among other publications.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Art, Asian Studies, Southeast Asia Program


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Southeast Asia Program

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Nicole CuUnjieng Aboitiz

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Columbia University

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