The Furnace of Kings

Carlos IV monument in Plaza Mayor, Intramuros c. 1898. Photo: John Tewell Collection.

The statue of Carlos IV is one of few colonial era monuments that stand today in the old city of Manila called Intramuros. The original purpose of its commission, who made it, and the story of its construction have been largely forgotten, and there are many gaps in the historical record about the monument. Recent findings by historian Pedro Luengo Guttierez attribute the monument’s mold to Spanish sculptor Juan Adan (1741-1816), who sculpted it in 1796.  However, the cast was forged in Maestranza, a bronze foundry converted by Chinese mestizo laborers who made cannons and ammunition for the Spanish colonial army. A granite tablet on the pedestal, tells onlookers that the statue was installed in the plaza in 1824 following a deadly mutiny that almost overthrew the colonial government. 

The description of foundry masters Mateo Villanueva and Felipe Alonso from the records in the archive are intriguing. Villanueva had just been released from prison, exonerated for a robbery at the Maestranza while Alonso worked with the new cast for the bell for the Manila Cathedral years before. Although both men worked on the monument to Carlos IV, neither directed its operations. That task was assigned to Ambrosio Casas, the captain of a regiment of a local militia. Another interesting figure thought to have worked on the monument was Damian Domingo, who was a minor at that time. He would later build the first Art Academy in Manila in 1821.

Aside from technical problems that are evident in the realization of such a work, foundry workers also dealt with making a sculpture which was very different from what was commonly made in the Philippines at that time: candlestick images in ivory, and religious images made in wood. Bronze sculpture, although practiced, was not common in the islands. Letters by Juan Adan to funders point to an unnamed “famous Indian professor” who steered the technical adaptation of small format pieces of a religious type to making large civil monuments. 

The records also show that the extraction of jaspers for the monument’s pedestal started in 1807 in the Mariveles mountains in Bataan, 54 kilometers from Manila by ferry crossing. The extraction required the rigid supervision of the Spanish military, including the captain, a lieutenant, a second master of stonework, soldiers and corporals, and civilian officials. It took them four months just to move stones by boat to the square in Intramuros. The mestizo Chinese militia headed by Ambrosio Casas were overextended from dividing their time between the foundry and quarry. Casas and his men were charged with carrying out the entire supply process through an informal network created by Chinese hardware

Drawing of the monument for Carlos IV in Manila. 14/09/1885 ANF 16648. Photo: Pedro Luengo Gutierrez


The expense ledger for April 1807 informs us that expenses multiplied due to the contracting of the services of the major master of the Royal Works. The report also included paltry wages paid to boilermakers, lapidary stonemasons, carpenters, and bricklayers. In December 1808, some ashlars were also purchased from Guadalupe, the traditional quarry from the 17th century. The first payments of lead and copper wire and two whetstones brought from China were made in 1809, indicating that they were about to cast the bronze mold.

An 1825 painting depicting the inaugural festivities in Plaza Mayor shows the statue of Carlos IV being protected by a circular temple surrounded by a series of low pedestals, and these in turn by an artificial garden. This design departs from the austerity of the original. Drawings dedicated to the decoration of the square demonstrate the pride of the Philippine authorities but absent from the celebrations are the laborers who lent their skill in the making of the monument. This fact becomes more tragic when we take into account that locals and immigrants supplied the crucial labor in the foundry. Their participation in the civic project was not just an exceptional collaborative effort, it was one of the rare occasions which helped them assimilate into a racially segregated colony. 

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Carlos IV, Photo: Museo Nacional del Prado, 1790.

A sketch made by Juan Adan for the monument presents Carlos IV with a cape, armor and decorations. The exterior of the cape is decorated with castles and lions, and the interior with ermine. On his chest he wears the necklace of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Carlos III. The drawing and the facial features were based on an official portrait of Carlos IV painted by Goya in 1790. 

For the longest time, it was believed that the monument was commissioned by Manila residents in gratitude for the King’s order to send smallpox vaccines to the Philippines in 1804, but the date of commission precedes this by a decade. Further investigation concluded that it was in fact the work of the Spanish government. The statue was designed to reinforce colonial power; to literally tower over citizens who were increasingly demanding autonomy. By the end of the 19th century, the monument was photographed without the pendant cross which appears in the original sketch. It was apparently vandalized and looted before it was removed in the 1960s amidst an anticolonial and nationalistic wave that coincided with the civil liberties movement, a political sea change that roughly coincided with the Civil Rights movement in the United States. It was largely forgotten in the basement of the National Library until dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered the return of the statue to its original location in 1978. In re-installing the statue, the Marcos regime also restored the false story of its commission, which continues to obscure the truth about its origins to this day. Still secreted in the granite is the work of the artisans, the foundry masters, and immigrants who built the monument as a civic exercise expressing their desire for full assimilation into the society that enlisted their labor. 

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