La Purisima: Images of the Immaculate Conception

Intramuros Administration

This exhibit presents the Immaculate Conception in small scale wood and ivory sculpture during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. From the folk renditions to the classic interpretations, these images signify how Filipinos perceived Mary most pure, conceived without sin; the prophesized virgin who will give birth of the Redeemer of Mankind.


-D. Santos

The Immaculate Conception is declared as the Principal Patroness of the Philippines by Pope Pius XII. Devotion to this title of Mary is widespread throughout the country. Many parishes were consecrated under her patronage and Concepcion became a popular name among girls.

Due to the Immaculate Conception's popularity, many images of her in painting and sculpture were commissioned. Here, she is depicted with gracefully draped robes, with hands posed in prayer, a distinctive 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.

Carved out of molave wood and polychromed, the image wears an open crown.

It stands on a cloud atop a four sided flower that makes it appear as if the virgin sprung out of bloom

A folk rendition of the virgin with an asymmetrically draped mantle. She stands on a cloud base with a single cherub. The hands and the horns of the crescent moon on the cloud base are missing.

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

The next six images show a series of interpretations of La Purisima dressed in 17th century Spanish court fashion. The extended bodice hangs below the waist, often scalloped or decorated with lace. The vertical line in the center indicates the borders of the closed overskirt. The cape falls steadily and symmetrically completing the aura of calm composure of the image in contrast to other renditions of the Immaculate Conception that shows dynamism through wind swept drapings.

Carved out of hardwood, the image shows contrasting sharp angular figures and sinuous lines.

As if carved by two different people, the rounded hips and the intricately rippling cape on the left is inconsistent with the details on the right side.

The left side is inconsistent with the jagged silhouette of the right side of the skirt, the hair, the thorn-like horn of the crescent moon and the triangular wing of the cherub on the base.

Another folk rendition with a colorful finish. Note the round face with a relatively big nose and eyes and small lips. Also note the jagged hemlines of the robes and drapings.

A colorful folk rendition of the virgin with a visible smile on her charming round face.

An unusual image of the Immaculate Conception with a mantle that falls from the head instead of the shoulders. The crescent moon appears on the skirt instead of the base.

Cherubs on the base are highly stylized, almost appearing like decorative elements.

The Immaculate Conception carved from a single piece of lightwood.

Its robe is decorated with bead bordered gilt squares.

A small image of the Immaculate Conception standing on a base of swirling "Chinese clouds. A narrow girdle is gracefully laced on her waist.

Another colorful rendition of the Immaculate Virgin with three cherubs on the base. The hair is curiously pulled back as if half of the scalp went bald.

Polychromed image of the Immaculate Conception in softwood. Hands folded in prayer, she stands on a cloud base with separately carved horns and a cherub with a flattened head. The folds of her garments are carved in a fall of uniform lines. The pyramidal form of the image is reminiscent of the 17th century Spanish courtwear clad models.

A folk interpretation of the virgin with primitive proportions. The image has a small head, meant to be fitted with a wig, which is mounted on a stout and squat body.

An image of the Immaculate Conception standing on a globe with a serpent biting a branch with fruit.

An image of the Virgin standing on clouds and a cherub head. The original crescent moon horns are missing. Her garments are adorned in gold leaf designs. There are also traces of gold leaf on her hair.

The serpent under Mary's feet signifies the curse that God uttered to the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel" (Gen 3:15). This is interpreted as the prophecy of the salvific act of Christ, Mary's seed, who one day shall defeat the rigin of all evil and save mankind from eternal damnation.

A more classic interpretation of the Immaculate Conception with fine details. Traces of gold leaf suggests that the robe was fully gilded and painted with floral motif.

Carved out of hardwood and mounted on a base with three cherubs and vertical horns of the crescent moon. The figure is carved to include a cloak which billows out to the right in a separately carved piece of wood. Hands are missing. Traces of polychrome still visible. Trained hands of the carver is evident in the beautiful execution of the vestment folds.

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 version of the Imaculate Conception bearing Chinese influences in craftsmanship as seen in the form of the eyes. The snake at the Virgin's feet is portrayed with an anthropomorphic face, notably with a set of teeth rather than fangs. She is adorned with a gold aureole of twelve stars and closed gold crown with rays emanating from the side bands.

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