The ‘Brown Madonna’ is arguably the most iconic work of Galo Ocampo, who was part of the Triumvirate of Modern Philippine Art, which included National Artists Victorio Edades and Carlos “Botong” Francisco. The 1938 “Brown Madonna” challenged the typical depiction of the ‘Mother and Child’ subject. After more than three centuries under colonial rule, Catholic iconography was associated with the Spanish ruling class and their fair skin and Western features. This strong mix of cultural and historical factors resulted in a mentality that caused some people to consider Galo Ocampo’s depiction of the Virgin Mary and the young Jesus as sacrilegious. This is comparable to ‘Olympia’ by Manet, who challenged the usual portrayal of a nude woman which similarly infuriated art critics at that time.
The “Brown Madonna” was portrayed in the Malay likeness of Filipinos, with the landscape of the Philippines in the background. The second version of “Brown Madonna” was created in 1983 by the artist himself for a close family friend - the subject matter remained the same albeit with a few changes in style, rendering, and detail, most notably the foliage. The heirs of Galo Ocampo held this painting in such esteem that it was prominently displayed at the artist’s necrological tribute in 1985.
Literature: Alice G. Guillermo, The Life and Times of Galo B. ocampo (McENRHO Book Publishing), p. 10