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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gatbonton, Esperanza. Philppine Religious Carvings in Ivory. Manila: Intramuros
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
Gatbonton, Esperanza and Tino, Martin Jr. Philippine Religious Imagery in Ivory. Manila:
Intramuros Administration, 1982.