Facebook enthusiasts beat experts in finding a Spanish painter’s grave in Philippines

June 3, 2019 - 4:28 PM
Social media and Joaquín María Herrer
Facebook played a big part in finding the descendants of the late Spanish master painter Joaquín María Herrer. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos)

A long lost grave of a Spanish master painter, who was also Fernando Amorsolo’s teacher, was located by his descendants in La Loma Cemetery at Caloocan through the help of social media.

A member of the Facebook group “Manila Nostalgia,” an online community dedicated to “photos and memories” of old Manila, posted a picture of an unusual grave marker with the inscription interpreted as:

Joaquín María Herrer: pintor y professor de la Escuela de Bellas Artes de Manila (“painter and professor at the Bellas Artes school of Manila”), born in Madrid on 1838 and died in Manila on 1917.

Reports note that some of the group’s members are artists and researchers based abroad. According to them, the grave belonged to Joaquín María Herrer, a prominent foreign artist in the 19th century.

The picture was apparently taken by a friend of Facebook user Ronaldo Samson Adoptante, a Filipino based in London.

Adoptante shared his insights in a Facebook group dedicated to posts celebrating the Spanish heritage of the Philippines, the “Oficialización del Español en Filipinas” (Officialization of Spanish in the Philippines).

He wrote in the online community that his “curious” friend took a picture of what appeared to be a “lonely (and) neglected tomb” found in Manila’s oldest cemetery.


Screenshot of Ronaldo Samson Adoptante’s post in the Facebook group “Oficialización del Español en Filipinas” as of June 3, 2019. (Screenshot by Interaksyon)

Adoptante eventually learned that Herrer, whose remains lie in the site, was an award-winning painter and instructor who was highly acclaimed for his landscape paintings and figure/life drawings.

Who was Joaquin Maria Herrer?

He specialized in church interiors and held art exhibits in Spain and France.

Herrer also participated in several art events, sold lots of paintings and received the highest recognitions in Europe for his works.

It was estimated that the Spanish master painter arrived in the Philippines between 1893 to 1895 and taught in two schools—the Escuela Superior de Pintura Grabado and the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts.

One of his students in the premier state university was celebrated Filipino painter Fernando Amorsolo, the country’s first National Artist for Visual Artist and considered the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art.”

Adoptante in his findings also realized that Herrer had no descendants in the Philippines, despite his grave being found in Caloocan.

“Curiously, Joaquin Ma. Herrer had no family here in the Philippines. The administrator of his estate when he died was Don Rafael Enriquez. When consulted with the Prado Museum website, in Madrid his records listed the death of Joaquin Ma. Herrer as 1892 (in his tomb: 1917),” he wrote on Facebook.

The Prado Museum or Museo Nacional del Prado is the main national art museum of Spain.

“He arrived in Manila in 1893 and probably didn’t get the chance to go back to Europe until his death in 1917, so the Prado website assumed that he died in the year he disappeared because no one knew he went to the Philippines,” Adoptante continued.

Apparently, it was initially presumed that Herrer had died in 1892.

This prompted Adoptante to contact Prado Museum in an attempt to clarify their records and relay that the Spanish master painter’s remains were in the Philippines with a grave that listed his death as 1917.

Three to four months later, he received a Facebook message from a certain Jozsef Palfalvi from Budapest, Hungary who said that he is a relative of Herrer’s family and that his cousin would “like to look for the tomb of the great-great grandfather” in Manila.

Palfalvi mentioned that he saw Adoptante’s message in Prado Museum’s website and revealed that they have long been looking for Herrer and his whereabouts, particularly his grave.

Palfavi was also the husband of Krisztina Herrer, a great-granddaughter of the Spanish master painter through his own son, César.

Adoptante eventually met Palfalvi and his family and then led them to Herrer’s grave at La Loma Cemetery.

The whole affair of finding Herrer’s grave through the help of social media amazed Filipinos who thought that Adoptante’s post was the “most interesting story” they’ve read in the Facebook group.

So far, this is the most beautiful story I’ve read in this forum,” group member Bong Rafael commented. 

Thank you for sharing this beautiful event. Kudos to you for extending a helping hand. God bless you, sir,” member Sandy Tayamen wrote. 

People and social media 

Social media, particularly Facebook, was initially created to connect certain university students through an online community, based on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s story.

Years later, it would bridge gaps and forge ties as it rolls out new features like groups, pages and even its own messaging platform.

According to a website that provides analysis on the social media industry, social media has greatly helped people connect with not just with their friends but with their past connections like people from high school and their childhood as well.

“Social networks began as a means of connecting with friends. How many of us sought out old friends from high school, or even grammar school, and were able to reconnect?” a feature from Social Media Today observed.

“Human beings are inherently social creatures. We need other people to truly thrive. Social media connects us with people we may never meet in person, yet we’re still able to develop as strong (and as I’ve found, many times even stronger) relationships with these people,” it continued. — Featured artwork by Interaksyon/Uela Altar-Badayos