Rebultong Garing: Religious Images in Ivory

Intramuros Administration

This exhibit presents an array of religious images in ivory crafted in Spanish colonial Philippines from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The sequence shows the development in craftsmanship from the time of the Chinese artisans in the Philippines, who were the first ivory carvers, to the period of trained Filipino craftsmen during the last decades of Spanish occupation.- D. Santos

Rebulto, adopted from Spanish de bulto refers to a free-standing religious sculpture carved in the round. De bulto is a categorical term applied to religious images carved with complete details including vestments, in contrast to those crafted like a mannequin meant to be garbed in textile (Jose, 1991).

Before the imposition of the ivory ban, garing or ivory was a popular medium in sculpture. It is valued for its natural pale white glow as well as its dense and fine grain, which enables it to be carved into the finest of details (Jose, 1990).

Her half-closed eyes and the upward slant of her lips lend an air of youth and innocence in the figure. She stands on a crescent moon surrounded by a whirl of cloud.

Despite its flattened appearance and the stiff carving of the hands, the carver was inventive enough to add touches of grace to her mantle and the cuffs of her tunic (Gatbonton, 1983).

Devotion to the Immaculate Conception is popular in the Philippines, hence many images of her were commissioned. Here, she is depicted with gracefully draped robes, with hands posed in prayer, a distinctie gesture of representations of the Immaculate Conception. The curved stance is common among ivory sculptures, following the shape of the tusk. The head is meant to be furnished with a wig.

A solid ivory, well-detailed and anatomically perfect Sleeping Child. The figure is unclothed and in a pose inspired by that of the Sleeping Buddha.

A 17th century image of the Madonna and Child carved in solid ivory.

Notice the traces of floral motif in gold leaf adorning the Virgin's garment.

Another remarkable representation of the Virgin Mother and Child Jesus in ivory of the 17th century.
Additional material were attached, held in place by pegs, to add layer and depth to the Virgin's garment.

A well detailed carving of Christ during His baptism. Note primitive proportions of the body, the goat-like appearance of the lower half of the face and beard and the fine carving of the lush hair. He stands on a polychromed base rounded with trefoil design. Images like this usually form part of a tableaux with the image of Saint John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Her exquisitely carved tunic and mantle are painted with floral motif. Her robes, as well as her hair were originally painted with gold dust. The Virgin's ears are pierced to allow for earrings.

A highly discolored piece of ivory carving bearing the same attributes of the earlier examples of the Immaculate Conception.

A version of the Immaculate Conception bearing Chinese influences in craftsmanship as seen in the form of the eyes. She is adorned with a gold aureole of twelve stars and closed gold crown with rays emanating from the side bands.

The snake at the Virgin's feet is portrayed with an anthropomorphic face notably with a set of teeth rather than fangs.

The Child Jesus sucks the finger on his right hand. The left arm was carved on a separate piece of ivory. The shape of he half closed eyes, rotund stomach, fleshy knees and tapering feet are traces of early Chinese influence (Gatbonton, 1983).

The infant Christ is seen here in a restful state with half closed eyes. The ivory was carved to show a rounded form with a massive head and body. Anatomical details are comparatively flat.

A late 18th century carving of the Sleeping Child in ivory with His body showing traces of polychrome. Metallic thread was used for the sash, cap and leg covering. The pink velvet robes were a later addition (Jose, 1990).

An image of Christ in solid ivory with holes pierced through the palms and feet to mount the body on a cross. The darker hue of the loincloth suggests it may have been originally gilt-covered.

Muscular and skeletal details are remarkably carved.

Another representation of the Virgin Mary, depicted here as the Sorrowful Mother. Traces of gold leaf floral decorations on the robe and on the borders of the garments. The lace-like edging on the mantle is reminiscent of Goanese work.

Here is an image of Saint Francis, a rare representation of a Jesuit saint. His hands are in a gesture of opening his clothes apart; metaphorically exposing his heart burning with the desire to win all souls for Christ.

Saint Anthony of Padua gained much popularity among Filipino devotees. He is invoked in times when the faithful are trying to find missing valuables. He is often depicted with the Child Jesus. Ironically, the figure of the Child is missing. The hands and head are of separate pieces from the body.

Its robes are adorned with gold leafed floral decorations.

This image of Saint Anthony is exceptionally well carved. The figure stands on an ivory base carved with gilt baroque foliage. This rests on a gilded wooden pedestal with pierced fretwork flange brackets on each side.

It shows fine details in the characters' features, robes, girdle and lacework borders. The lacework on the borders of its cape is typical of Portuguese work from Goa, India (Gatbonton and Tinio, 1982)

Devotion to Saint Joseph became popular in the Philippines as well. He is often depicted with the Christ Child and the blooming staff - the symbol of his destiny to become the Savior's foster father. This piece is exquisitely carved and adorned with red gold metal works and gold leafed designs on the hem of the robe. Note that the body was carved with the ivory base in one piece.

Another popular depiction of Saint Joseph highlights him being a simple laborer - an endearing trait for the majority of Filipinos who toil everyday to earn a living for the family. Saint Joseph is shown here holding the hand of his foster son Jesus while the latter holds a basket of tools. The piece is enhanced with gold leaf decorations.

A finely carved madonna and child bearing a very subtle contrapposto stance. The same subtlety may be observed in the rendering of the drapery of the vestments, the detailing of the hair and the facial expression.

The Virgin Mother holds the Child Christ turned outward in her left arm. The holes around the Virgin's head used to have pegs to hold a wig in place (Gatbonton and Tinio, 1982).

She is dressed in a tunic with a simple upper portion balanced off by its busy lower folds (Gatbonton, 1983).

An image of the Sorrowful Virgin forming part of a crucifixion tableaux. She appears encumbered by the heavy folds of her mantle (Gatbonton, 1983).

The nun-like wimple confining her tiny face draws attention to her grief stricken face.

Partner to the Sorrowful Virgin. The face of Saint John has the same poignant sadness. His left hand appears rigid with tension (Gatbonton, 1983).

The depth of his grief is measured by the outside handkerchief he presses against his face.

Another image of the Sorrowful Mother that is part of a crucifixion tableaux. The image was skillfully carved with a face that radiates beauty in the midst of anguish, deeply folded robes and finely serrated mantle edges. The wrung hands emphasizes Mary's prayerful attitude in the midst of her grief.

The carver paid attention to the difference of heavy and light fabrics as seen in the treatment of the robes as opposed to the wimple.

Paired with the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, the image bears the classic pose of Saint John at the foot of the cross, with the right hand on the chest to signify his empathy.

Note the effort of the carver to instill wrinkles on his contorted forehead.

A particularly interesting piece depicting Saint Joseph the Worker and the Child Jesus. Higher sophistication in artistry and craftsmanship is evident in the dynamic pose of the two separately carved figures, which gives an impression of a captured scene rather than a static portrait.

Saint Joseph is shown here as if walking on the way to work, looking slightly backward and reaching out to a young Jesus.

Jesus, who is carrying basket of tools is in a striding pose with arms outstretched, as if trying to catch up to His earthly father's pace.

A depiction of Saint Francis with the well-defined facial features. The hands, bearing the marks of the stigma are delicately done with the robe and cloak detailed in folds and drapes. The crucifix in its right hand is missing.

An image of Saint Peter carved in a single piece of ivory. The brilliance of the gilding is typical of Vigan pieces where ticker gold leaf seems to have been used. The silver rooster, the symbol of Saint Peter's denial of Christ stands on a gilded pedestal.

A finely carved solid ivory santo depicting Saint Phillip Neri with silver gilt accoutrements. The facial features are distinctive and well defined, the eyes are of glass veneer. Saint Phillip carries a silver cross and wears a silver sunburst aureole.

An interesting piece from the Visayan region depicting Saint Peter with a silver gilt flower-shaped halo with tiny dangling stars. The position of the left hand is peculiar. His intricately carved penitent face gazes upward, expressing remorse over his denial of Jesus. Holding silver gilt keys, symbolizing the pronouncement of Jesus to him, "...I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven..." (Matthew 16:19).

A finely carved image of Saint Joseph. The good condition of the polychromy highlights the handsome face. A hat dangles at the back of the image, signifying that Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus is on a journey. Based on the appearance of the Child Jesus, the image may be a reminiscence of the Holy Family's flight to Egypt to save the infant Jesus from the murderous hands of King Herod.

An elegant piece, carved with a voluminous robe and cape indicating that it was carved from a comparatively huge portion of ivory. The carver had the liberty of fully extending the right elbow and separating the feet widely to give Saint Paul his dignified pose. Traces of gilt decorations may be seen on the robes.

Three figures forming part of a Nativity Scene. The Virgin Mary, and two kneeling figures of native peasants adoring the Infant Jesus. The image of the child Jesus supposed to be seated on Mary's lap is missing.

The seated image of the Virgin has a very pretty face and plump cheeks, with its eyes and polychromy still intact. The robe and mantle are decorated with dainty fleur de lis bordered by foral scrollwork on the hems. Hands are missing.

The pregnant woman is a particularly interesting part of the tableaux. Her coiled hair and loose camisole identifies her as an india, a term applied to natives of the Spanish colonies.

A man, probably a shepherd or a farmer, wearing a short tunic with gold-leafed girdle. He bows low to create three heights in the composition.

Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, intricately carved. Perhaps this piece is one of the finest examples of the potential of ivory to yield very minute details.

The mid body opens to form a meticulously carved triptych joined by hinges. On the center panel is the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity with the Infant Jesus as the central figure and point of intersection. The side panels depict people of German origin in adoration of the central figure.

The proliferation of crafting religious images in ivory in Spanish colonial Philippines signify a myriad of socio-historical-cultural contexts: the influence of a western colonial power, embracing a new faith, the merging of cultures, display of power and wealth, and the realization of the great potential of Filipino artistry and craftsmanship.

Credits: Story

Gatbonton, Esperanza. Philppine Religious Carvings in Ivory. Manila: Intramuros
Administration, 1983.
Jose, Regalado. Images of Faith: Religious Ivory Carvings from the Philippines. Pasadena:
Pacific Asia Museum, 1990.
Jose, Regalado. Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines, 1565-1898. Makati: Ayala
Museum, 1991.
Gatbonton, Esperanza and Tino, Martin Jr. Philippine Religious Imagery in Ivory. Manila:
Intramuros Administration, 1982.

Credits: All media
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