In 1875 two decorative scenographic painters who had recently come to Manila from Italy, Giovanni Dibella and Cesare Alberoni, were engaged at Intramuros by the Augustinian Prior, Jose Ibeas O.S.A..
These artists worked on the ceiling of the Church for fifteen months. The amount allocated for the task was 6,000 pesos, but this was later increased to 8,000 persos in order to expedite the completion of the project.
Their work resulted in a superb trompe l'oeil vault with floral patterns, geometric outlines, classic themes and religious images.
The splendid barrel vault and dome of the church helped to magnify the skills of two Italian decorative painters.
On to that untextured and plain surface, they managed to sculpt and give life to the ceiling with their paint brushes by giving an illusion of three dimensions.
Masters of a "shadow" effect, they filled every space with wonderful floral motifs, geometric patterns, classic architectural themes, coffers, and religious images.
They successfully achieved this on the trompe l'oeil ceiling in a way that highlighted the spatial geometry of the church.
Without a doubt, the Church of San Agustín has one of the most artistically decorated interiors among all of the old colonial churches in the Philippines.
The painting scheme of Dibella and Alberoni covered an earlier painting scheme in crimson, blue, yellow, and gilt, more akin to Mexican colonial styles.
Remnants of this earlier painting was discovered when the pipe organ of San Agustín was dissembled for restoration.
A portion of this older colour scheme can now be seen through a glass window cut in the restored organ’s pipe box.
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Photos (at right):
Picture 1: The trompe l'oeil cieling, painted in 1875.
Picture 2: A section of the painted cieling, showing the three-dimensiol effect.
Picture 3: A cloister corridor in the monastery (now part of the San Agustín Museum).
To view the photo gallery of the Augustinians in the Philippines in this web site, select Philippines: Province of Cebu and Philippines: Intramuros after you click here.