Reimagining What Lapulapu Would Have Looked Like

Have you ever imagined what artificial intelligence might come up with by picturing out Filipino national hero Lapulapu?


For most of us Filipinos, especially Cebuanos, Lapulapu is perhaps the most recognizable figure in Philippine history. His images can be found everywhere from his lifelike statues to various visual arts. Yet there is no clear agreement between historians, public officials, and the general public as to what he really looks like. There hasn't been a definitive image of the 16th-century Filipino chieftain, who stopped the initial foray of the Spanish to colonize the island and the rest of the archipelago. In fact, there are, even, discussions arguing if he's really a historical figure or just a mythical embellishment that caused the untimely death of Spanish (Portuguese-born) explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

Classic interpretation of Lapulapu

Many artworks you see of his image were only made in the past few years and it's based on interpretations from old Spanish illustrations of ancient Filipinos. In 2020, the National Historical Commission unveiled the painting made by Bulacan-based artist Carlo Caacbay as the "face" of Lapulapu. It wasn't pulled out of thin air as there was research done by historian Danilo Gerona about the possible age of the chieftain during the time of contact with the Magellan expedition.

Modern interpretation of Lapulapu

According to his book, 'Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines,' Gerona consulted the 1563 book of Portuguese historian Gaspar Correa titled 'Lendas da India.' Another point of reference was the famous Boxer Codex of the 1590s which illustrated the ancient Filipinos.

Envisioning his Face on AI

This got me thinking, what if we let artificial intelligence and machine learning help picture out what Lapulapu might have looked like based on the artwork style of 16th-century artists as the year 1521 falls in that timeline. Of course, it won't create the real Lapulapu face but would be like what these artists might have thought painting him.

So I have lined up the artists who are active on, before, and a few years after the Lapulapu-Magellan time period (1519-1522) from Rennaisance Spanish, Ming China, and Muromachi period Japan. Another point of comparison would be the images generated from neighboring kingdoms within southeast Asia. So you might be asking, why these different art styles? I want to see different perspectives from different artistic heritages that were dominant in their respective regions.

I already did experiments with AI in the past and the results are quite surprising and mind-blowing. I will put the creative power of stable diffusion technologies to the test by using Enstil, Dezgo, Stability AI, and DreamStudio. The prompt that I'm using is: "Portrait of Filipino chieftain Lapulapu by [name of artist]" or "[Art style/period] portrait of Filipino chieftain Lapulapu by [name of artist]." After doing some initial tests, I found out that some results might have been contaminated by native American-like features and not the ones that I expected to be from our region. Nevertheless, I have to pick up ones that are somewhat close to the desired results.

The Results

The first group of artists that I'm going to test are the Renaissance-era Spanish painters of the time with the likes of El Greco, Juan Fernandez Navarette, Luis de Morales, Alonso de Berruguete, Vicente Juan Masip, Pedro Villegas de Marmolejo, and Fernando Yañez de la Almedina.

El Greco

Although born in Greece after the ill-fated Magellan expedition, he is one of the greatest Spanish painters of his time so I can't help but put his work to the test. Expectedly, a lot of the images the AI has generated in different platforms resulted in native American-looking chiefs but I found two images that stand out (still not 'Filipino' enough though).

He is featured as an old man with fur around his neck

He is adorned with animal hides with his weapon tucked in

Juan Fernandez Navarette

He is a popular Mannerist-style painter from the Navarre region also known as El Mudo (The Mute). It is interesting to know that the results have shown that the AI created more desirable results than that of El Greco. Although, the subject in the first one can be mistaken for an Amazonian tribal leader while the second one may be closer to what I expect Lapulapu might have looked like. I may have to admit that I have the celebrity chef Boy Logro and the Machete actor himself Danny Trejo vibes ringing around me.

Can he be a head-hunter here?

Reminds me of Machete

Luis de Morales

I like to point out that the period artists never had any connection or interactions with pre-Hispanic Filipinos so their artworks would have been wildly inaccurate. In the case of Luis 'el Divino' de Morales, he was simply known for his works on religious subjects, including many representations of the Madonna and Child and the Passion. The results showed more "Chino"-looking interpretations with elaborate headdresses.

Intricate headdress is the name of the game

Reminds me of Sun Wukong

More like an Inca warrior to me

Alonso de Berruguete

As expected, a lot of the generated portraits showcase versions of Hispanized local nobilities. It means we can envision what an alternate universe version of Lapulapu might have been if he just laid down his arms and accepted Spanish suzerainty of his own domain. In that case, he will be wearing Spanish-style clothing and all the accouterments that go along with it.

Alonso de Berruguete is considered to be the most important sculptor of the Spanish Renaissance and is known for his emotive sculptures depicting religious ecstasy or torment. One generated image showed more 'native' clothing similar to a headhunting chief.

Interesting fashion style

Looking badass here

Trying to be Henry VIII?

Vicente Juan Masip

Considered one of the leading figures in the Valencian school of painting, Vicente Juan Masip is known for his religious paintings in the Mannerism style. The results are somewhat similar to de Berreguete and de Morales.

What's with the red paint?

Is he wearing a Bluetooth headset?

Pedro de Villegas Marmolejo

Just like the results generated by other AI platforms, this style ends up showing someone employed under the Spanish crown. It's similar to what local elites did just to save their lives. If Lapulapu end up serving the Spanish, he would probably be painted that way.

Pedro de Villegas Marmolejo studied painting from either Roman or Flemish models and he painted a Visitation to Elizabeth for the Seville Cathedral, which resembles the manner of Pedro Campaña.

Fur all over?

Posing like a 16th century Spanish aristocrat

La furia roja...

Fernando Yañez de la Almedina

Unlike the other results, this one generated weird artifacts like weird facial hairs and fashion style but the images are all but the same as the rest. The artist's background in religious arts may have played a hand in the generated images.

I wonder what's that one on his cheek

Interesting armor made of shells?

Headdress and fur coat combination

Ming Chinese artists

Pre-Hispanic Filipino societies have been trading with China for centuries and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Ming have paid attention to the native leaders they were dealing with. How would Chinese artists have viewed the foreign barbarians looking to pay tribute to the emperor?

The common theme in the image generations is the distinctive armor and Chinese-style hairstyle as it has difficulty identifying Filipino features. All look Chinese.

Wen Zhengming

Xu Wei

Muromachi Japanese artists

During this time, there is a distinctive style Japanese artists were employing in their paintings and it would be interesting to see how the AI generate images based on this art style. Would it fail to identify Filipino features?

It manage to create barechested figures without East Asian-style garments and armor like the case of Kano Motonobu and Kano Masanobu. Yet faces still look Japanese though.

Kano Motonobu

Kano Masanobu

Honami Koetsu

Southeast Asian artists

There were prominent kingdoms in Southeast Asia that has direct and indirect trade links with pre-Hispanic Filipino communities. It would be interesting how they viewed him in their own art style.

Khmer

Siamese

Majapahit

Majapahit

Dai Viet

Final Thoughts

As mentioned above, all the photos generated by the AI are not actual representations of Lapulapu. Treat it like thought experiments as to how different art styles, from the same time period, picture out Lapulapu as a historical figure with the help of technology.

Tell us what you think about it.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Reimagining What Lapulapu Would Have Looked Like
Reimagining What Lapulapu Would Have Looked Like
Have you ever imagined what artificial intelligence might come up with by picturing out Filipino national hero Lapulapu?
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