Monday, September 24, 2018

327. A Folksy Warehouse Find: SAN JOSE AND NINO JESUS

Oh, the things you find in a warehouse! Yes, this San Jose with his little Niño—carved from a single piece of wood—was found in a dusty warehouse of demolished house parts and old lumberyard materials. It was such in a sorry state—with paint peeling, base cracked, and features that are hardly recognizable.

But I thought the 15.5 inch santo looked promising underneath that layer of dust and grime. It had all the characteristics of a true primitive--carved with shallow features, painted with bright colors to cover up the stiffness of the figure. 

There are little details that added much to the appeal of this peace which I got next to nothing. The fact that it was totally fashioned from one piece of softwood wood, including the base, was remarkable, as the symmetry of the piece was almost perfect. Why, the silhouette looks almost like an awards trophy for some contest!

San Jose, himself, looks younger, what with his very sharp, pointed beard and straight black hair. His tunic features a collar while a bow knot is neatly tied high above his waist, as opposed to a simple cord. His robes are painted yellow (which has become grrenish with age) with chicken feet-like prints, typical of Visayan santos. The santo tapers down to the simple, squarish base, with corners lopped off.

Child Jesus on the other hand, looks like an afterthought, ramrod-straight in the arm of San Jose. It almost looks like standing, not seated in a cuddle.

All this San Jose needed was a thorough cleaning and a quick trip to a neighborhood painter to make it more presentable. A light coat of varnish to fix the paint was the final touch to this folksy warehouse San Jose and his little Niño—now fit to be displayed in my house!

Monday, September 3, 2018

326. Mother and Child of Ancient History: STO. ROSARIO

One of the most important and popular devotions in the Philippines  is centered on Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary –or simply, Virgen del Rosario or Sto. Rosario, patroness of countless far-flung barrios, towns, cities and parishes in the country. It is a Dominican devotion that dates back to th 13th century and propagated throughout the world. It is no wonder that many home altars feature images of Sto. Rosario, showing the rosary-holding Virgin with her Child Jesus.

This century-old Sto. Rosario is one such example, carved by an artisan of extraordinary skill, in the classical style. The image was found in Bulacan, in a house demolition-cum-antique shop, part of a lot of antiques that the proprietor was trying to dispose. 

One look and you can tell that this is not the work of a folk santero, for it is exceptionally carved in classical 19th century style, with many wonderful details. It is surprising that this Sto Rosario was carved from softwood, given its quality. But then again, the soft, easy-to-carve material may have inspired and allowed the artist to put in more details.

This Sto. Rosario stands 16 inches tall, inclusive of the  plain,  squarish base with 2 frontal corners lopped off. The image alone is about 13 inches tall. Both Mother and Child are crowned with small parts missing, including their hands.  A small, hand-made rosary fashioned from coconut beads, could have been held in the Virgin’s right hand.

But that do not detract from the beauty and antiquity of this religious statue, which is heavily patinated and darkened with age.

The Virgin cuts a matronly figure, with a plumpish face and built. She stands with a bit of a hunch, her head in a frontal gaze, with facial features well-defined: from her full cheeks,  deep-set eyes, lips ending in a slight curl,  and neck rings. The Niño’s features are hidden in the thick patina, but it is also well-executed, with the Virgen  supporting Him precariously  with her left hand on His knee.

Wearing a cope-like cape that is buttoned on the neck, then draped and gathered on her waist, the Sto. Rosario stands on a cloud-like peana with feet showing, borne by a curly-haired cherub with downcast eyes. The paint has peeled off in her lower extremities, with the primer (gesso) showing, but with traces of gilt still visible.

Most of her back is covered by her lush, flowing hair that reaches down her knees. Hair strands are defined by shallow carving, more detailed on the side.  Whoever carved this work of devotional art should be happy to know that his Sto. Rosario-- a product of his skill and passion-- has survived all these years, cared for and loved by an antique collector.

Monday, August 27, 2018

325. A Picker Picks a Peter: SAN PEDRO DE BANGKAL

The last time I was in Bangkal, Makati was around 2012. Years before, the barangay had established a reputation as the thrift shop center of Makati, where one could find one-of-a-kind vintage items, and even antiques buried in the jumbled assortment of second-hand "pre-loved" items, garage sale consignments, not to mention the debris and detritus of demolished old houses.

But by 2012, the place had been discovered by antique dealers, and the thrill of the hunt had diminished as the price tags became more expensive and old item became more scarce.  The mishmash of articles have also been  organized, i.e. Italian decors, Orientalia, etc., stripping the place of its randomness, which was part of the exciting picking experience.

So, I went there, expecting nothing, and saw nothing—until I went to the Bangkal depot—that big compound near the end of Evangelista St., where they drop off all the found items from here and abroad for processing.


There were also stalls there, where objects are laid out on tables and consoles, in disarray. This was more to my liking, my idea of a picker’s paradise—the organized chaos was a sign of many possibilities!! True enough, a table in a back stall caught my eye. For there, behind some kitschy woodcarvings, I espied  an antique folk santo, a San Pedro, badly out-of-place amidst crystal ashtrays, resin figurines and decors !!

It’s not a remarkable San Pedro its carving shallow and unrefined, as all folksy santos are. But its condition is impeccable—its height alone is 16 inches, inclusive of the half-inch base. Made of medium wood, the rather hefty santo owes much  its charm to its color, still brilliant all these years. Save for the missing key—San Pedro’s square base, paint, hand, base—are all intact.

The image has been painted with house paint—latex—using just 3 colors—black (San Pedro’s hair), yellow (tunic), and brown (cape). The tulip-like strokes that decorate the garments are painted in silver paint, perhaps to mimic metallic embroidery. These floral flourishes, I have seen in many Visayan santos. The provenance was later confirmed by the Seller.

I had to keep the good saint in my hands, as by then, the place was swarming with pickers, Mentally, I estimated the price of the santo, all things considered.  When I approached the Seller to ask for the santo’s  price tag,  I was stunned (but happy) that it was way below my estimate. I made an offer, which she gladly accepted, and San Pedro de Bangkal, the keeper of the gate—was mine to keep.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


 More santos and sacred art from the collection of the Archdiocese Museum of San Fernando, Pampanga, with Msr. Eugene Reyes as Director, Archivist and Curator.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


The Archdiocese of San Fernando Museum and Archives was established in 1979 by Archbshop  Oscar Cruz at the second floor of the University of the Assumption Chapel. It was designed to be a repository of the ”handiwork and possessions” of the Kapampangans that depict their rich culture and traditions. 

Also at that time, Arch. Cruz forbade the transfer of old material heritage of the church and asked parish priests to turn these vintage and antique items over to the diocese—in whatever state they were in.

Over 800 objects of value were collected form this effort—mostly wooden and some ivory santos, both processional and tabletop size;  vintage images, monastic art, shadow boxes,  urnas (altars), altar vessels, old liturgical books, sacramentals, and architectural details from churches and chapels. 

Arch. Pablo Virgilio David considers the  San Agustin Museum in Intramuros an extension of the  San Fernando Museum as many of the items there were obtained from Augustinian-built churches from Lubao, Betis and other nearby towns.

After the Pinatubo eruption, the collection swelled even more as churches, chapels, and visitas brought everything from treasured altar images, silver and gold vessels, paintings, furniture,  and all kinds of ecclesiastical art for safekeeping at the university at the height of the 1991 catastrophe. When the  chaos and dust settled down, many churches opted to leave the objects permanently as their contribution to the museum.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

322. STO. TOMAS DE AQUINO: Patron of Catholic Education

I bought this beautiful antique santo for its beautiful symmetry, and not for any other reason. In fact, I didn’t even know its identity—I was simply struck by its perfect proportion, balance, and reflectional symmetry—that is, if there is a line dividing the santo into two, the pieces will be mirror images of each other. Remarkable for a folk santo carved by an anonymous, and perhaps, untrained artisan.

After some time sitting on a shelf, I took a more serious look at this 20 inch. santo. I knew it was a Dominican santo, but the biretta he was wearing stumped me. It was only after a thorough cleaning that details appeared, which led me to suspect that this was a rare Santo Tomas de Aquino.

This Dominican priest (1225-1274) is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the Middle Ages. But save for his association with the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas, and the town of Sto. Tomas in Batangas, the saint is largely unknow; there are few examples of hims as a carved santo figure.

The tell-tale sign that this was indeed Sto. Tomas de Aquino was a faded painting of a sunburst drawn on the saint’s breast—the sun of truth, a symbol of his teachings illuminated by divine truth. Another painted detail as this string of rosary beads that one can faintly discern hanging from his neck---the Dominicans often wore the rosary around their cowls or hoods.

As to the crown-like biretta with four points, this represents his being a angelic Doctor of the Universal Church (which is why, he is sometimes also represented as having wings). If he still had his hands, he would have held a pen to an open book. Or he would have held a small church on his left hand (as doctor of the church). Some portraits show a dove at his ear to symbolize the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which is hard to capture in 3-dimensional images.

Sto. Tomas de Aquino is considered as Patron of Students, Universities, Catholic schools, Doctor of the Church . His feast day was moved to January 28 in 1970, but Filipinos continue to celebrate the original feast day of  March 7, which actually is the date of his death.