THE NAME Francesco Riccardo Monti may not ring a bell. But in this month’s exhibit at the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences, the photographs of the Italian sculptor’s works— the massive sculptures atop the UST Main Building, the bust of St. Thomas Aquinas in the mezzanine of the same building, the relief murals on scenes in Philippine history at the lobby of the Far Eastern University’s administrative building, and the cast of St. Dominic de Guzman at the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, among others—remind people of his importance to modern Philippine art.

But before Monti found his place in Philippine art history, he had to endure rejection from his motherland.

Exodus from Italy

The art of sculpture runs through the blood of Monti. But unlike his father, Monti received formal art training from the Institute of Ponzone for Decorative Arts and Technology and the Academy of Fine Arts, where his strong foundation of classical technique could be attributed.

In November 1928, Monti joined a design competition for the Caduti Austrio-Ungheresi Monument, in Cremona, Italy. The design contest commemorated the 33 Austro-Hungarian soldiers who died in Cremona during the First World War. Despite the report in a local newspaper announcing that his design won first place, organizers changed the results of the contest— allegedly due to “political maneuvering”— and stripped Monti not only of the distinction of winning first place, but also the art commission.

Leaving Cremona in December the same year to seek a better place for his art, he went to different parts of Europe before reaching New York. There, he met Juan Arellano, the Filipino architect. As fate would have it, Arellano invited Monti to the Philippines, where he would eventually practice his art for the next 30 years.

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Monti’s first commission in the Philippines was supposed to be in Cebu, but unfortunately, he never made it because of a cholera outbreak in the province. And with 170 quintals (about 17,000 kilos) of clay and nothing to use it for, he decided to stay in Manila and sculpt for good.

Monti became known when he worked with Arellano for the Manila City Government. Arellano, who was supervising architect for the Bureau of Public Works, was working on the design of the Metropolitan Theater on the orders of Manila Mayor Thomas Earnshaw. At that time, the Americans focused on infrastructure and development of the cities as planned by William Parsons in 1913.

Monti’s sculptures complement the building’s art deco style. On the building’s exterior, the bronze sculptures “Siamese Dancer” and “Oriental Dancers” symbolize Philippine culture and its relation to theater arts. Inside the theater’s main lobby, “Adam” and “Eve” welcome theater enthusiasts to the theater that once became the center of Philippine stage drama.

Monti and UST

In 1948, UST offered Monti a teaching position at the College of Architecture and Fine Arts (CAFA) where he was tasked to develop its sculpture program. UST Rector Fr. Angel de Blas, O.P. gave him one of his career’s biggest commissions: to crown the Main Building with statues of Aristotle, St. Augustine, and William Shakespeare, among others, representing literature, philosophy, and religion. But the plan came to a complete halt in 1953, with only 15 of the originally planned 30 statues completed. The 40-foot statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, which Monti was supposed to chisel, was also never pursued.

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While teaching in UST, Monti also received commissions from the government. In 1953, he accepted a major project for the Philippine International Fair, a project of President Elpidio Quirino. For the fair, he created five allegorical statues, which he called “Filipinas” and the “Four Freedoms” now found at the Malacañang palace grounds. The “Four Freedom Statues of Expression,” “of Religion,” “from Want,” and “from Fear,” have been broken into pieces and are awaiting restoration, while “Filipinas” remains intact.

Outside UST

Apart from his works in UST, the exhibit at the UST Museum also displayed Monti’s other pieces, including the portraits of Presidents Manuel Quezon and Manuel Roxas, with bronze finish.

Monti’s bulkier works are also displayed in the exhibit in black-and-white pictures. Researchers also credit him for the statues in the main building of the University of the Philippines Visayas campus in Iloilo. The building, which used to be the Iloilo City Municipal Hall, has the statues of Law and Order at its entrance.

Monti also worked with National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino for the Bonifacio Monument. The statue, which is seen today at the Caloocan City rotunda, dramatizes Bonifacio’s struggle for independence as the leader of the Katipunan.

Monti also heeded the call of the Catholic Church to produce sacred works. Together with Jose Zaragoza, he was commissioned by the Dominican Order to do a mural on Our Lady of La Naval and the Battle of La Naval. The concrete cast in silver finish shows the unwavering respect both Spaniards and Filipinos give to the image and the miraculous battles at Manila Bay and at different parts of Luzon. The relief panel, divided into three sections, can be seen at the facade of the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City. Also, Monti and Zaragoza did a cast of St. Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers, embossed at the right side of the church’s facade.

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But in a twisted turn of events, Monti’s death was shortnoticed. After finishing the casts of Don Bosco and St. Dominic de Savio at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Mandaluyong City, he suffered internal injuries from a car accident and finally died on August 11, 1958.

Teaching and living side by side with noted UST art CAFA faculty members such as Galo Ocampo and National Artists Victorio Edades, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, and Vicente Manansala, Monti was a class of his own. Yet, this Italian sculptor never forgot to show appreciation for the country that took him in during the lowest point of his career.

In the March 1953 issue of the Varsitarian, Monti expressed his gratitude to the Philippines: “I do fervently wish that I could train one young Filipino artist in the art of sculpture to carry on the work I started,” he said. “I will die happy that in my humble way, I could have reciprocated the hospitality this beautiful country has given me for the last 25 years.” Miko L. Morelos

Sources: Francesco Riccardo Monti in the Philippines catalog from the UST Museum of Arts and Science by Maria Victoria Herrera (2005), The UST Main Building: A Witness to History by Fr. Fidel Villaroel, O.P. (1977)


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