Damian Domingo was born in Manila about the last years of the eighteenth century to a Spanish father and a Filipina mother, a beauty from Tondo. Just like Father Jose Burgos, Don Felipe G. Calderon and other noted great Filipinos, he was a descendant of a family either belonging to the Spanish nobility or to the middle class. Damian Domingo showed a marked aptitude for art at an early age. Upon reaching his early adult age, he was already a consummate master of the brush. He was the first Filipno painter to specialize in secular painting, that is, in portraying non-religious themes on canvas.
Among his subjects were the governors-general, beautiful girls, prominent persons, and panoramic landscapes. He excelted in miniature painting because he possessed a- photographic eye. According to his great grand-son Don Alfonso T. Ongpin, he was often commissioned by Manila gallants to paint miniature portraits (they were then in Vogue) of their sweethearts. Since custom did not allow the suitors and painters to make formal visits, they had to be content with deliberately walking up and down the street fronting the house where the young belle would show herself at the window behind fluttering lace fan. After two or three of such promenades, Domingo would surprise his clients with a perfect likeness of the lady in question. It was, in fact, his skill in miniature painting that enabled him marry a rich and pretty girl of Manila. His miniature painting of señorita Lucia Casas so fascinated her father, Don Ambrocio Casas (colonel in the militia) that he invited the young painter to his house. A beautiful romance bloomed between the painter and the señorita. Out of their marriage came eight children: Celedonia, Severo (who became a painter like him), Anastacio, Feliciana, Agapita, (who became a nun), Mariano, Jose (also a painter), and Nicolasa. By 1825, the fame of Damian Domingo as a painter was well established.
Many prominent citizens of Manila visited his studio to have their portraits made or simply to admire his paintings. One of his frequent visitors was Governor-General Mariano Ricafort (1825-30), who was a patron of the arts and an admirer of the painter. On June 13, 1826, Domingo was appointed professor of painting at the first Philippine Academy of Drawing, an institution established by the Economic Society in 1821 for the development of arts in the country. Presumably, he became the school director Although the diploma awarded to him by the society on March 5, 1827, did not specify that he was the academy director, nevertheless the duties he discharged were those of a school head. The diploma was a public recognition of the highly satisfactory services he rendered to the Academy as well as for "his conduct, knowledge, talent and assiduousness in the art of painting." Under the new set-up, he required that there be no racial descrimination in his school - that the Spaniard, the mestizo, and native have equal privileges.
The students were taught how to draw still life and the human form, the art of perspective, painting in oil and and aquarelle, and the preparation of colors and surfaces. Painters of that epoch painted not only on canvas, but on wood and ivory, of copper, iron, silver, and sometimes gold. Religious subjects were favorites of Filipino painters: the lives and miracles of santos, passion of christ, and the mysteries of the Virgin Mary. In recognition of his artistic talent and civic work, he was awarded the honorific title of Lieutenant Of the Spanish Army. In his Les Philippines, published in Paris in 1846. Jean Mallat, a French resident of Manila, observed that Domingo’s miniatures showed “markes of great talents,” The painter did not live long enough to enjoy the fruit of his success. He died about 1834, before reaching the age of 40. His death was a great loss not only to art but to the Filipino movement for racial equality that was to reach its apogee later in that century. To his family and motherland, he left a lasting legacy – the greatness of the Filipinos in painting. Of his numerous paintings, only two albums of water-color drawings and three oil paintings are so far known to exist. Those in oil are: Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Catedra de S. Pedro Roma, and La Sagrada Familia. The school which Domingo headed was forced to close its doors " for lack of funds." For several years, the country suffered the lack of an art center until the authorities established an official Academy of Drawing and Painting in 1849, similar to that of Madrid. Three Spanish painters were also hired - all experienced professors - among them Cortina and Nieto, to teach the latest methods and techniques from Europe.
They remained in Manila until about 1860 when they were succeeded by another Spanish painter, Agustin Saez, who remained head of the academy until his death in 1891. He was succeeded by Lorenzo Rocha, under whose term the reorganization of the said institution took place, giving more importance to the technique and introducing more theoretical and practical subjects. From the portal of the school emerged some of the great Filipino painters. Domingo in his grave, must have been happy that a number of these Filipino painters had attained international recognition. Today, only a few of his paintings and drawings survive to show his talent and skill. He is remembered as a forerunner of the Filipino movement for racial equality and as the foremost Filipino painter of the early nineteenth century.