By Josephine Pasricha / Photographs by Manny Fernandez
(Source: Architectural Journal, A Magazine of the Home Arts, Vol. II, No. 12, pp. 88-91. ©April 1982)
“They don’t make santos like they used to,” says Francisco Vecin, who owns a collection of about 200 santos, most of which are life-size processional pieces.
Vecin compares a 150 year old santo. The Image of Christ, with Señor Desmayado, a recently sculpted piece of the fainting Christ. Both belong to his collection; the antique Christ is a family heirloom that must have come from Laguna, while Señor Desmayado is a commissioned work from Bert Gubaton.
The santos of old were done with love by sculptors who had the patience and the leisure , although not much knowledge of anatomy and proportion. Often, it took them months, perhaps years, to finish one santo; they had all the time to pause from their work and wait for the wood to dry just so.
Modern santo carvers are always rushing. They do not have enough ti me anymore to do everything by hand with painstaking skill. Thus, the use of machine tools; even drying techniques use the assembly line method.
There is a division of labor among the artisans. There are makers of torsos, amkers of heads, carvers of hands and feet. There are those who only polychrome the santo, rendering the right tint and color to approximate the live human flesh. There are also labradores who carve ornaments, silversmiths who make the golden crowns, diadems, halos, silver carrozas, flowers and candle holders. Of course, there are the fashion designers who specialize only in clothes for santos.
Thus, santos from the 19th century and even to the 20th century are characterized by smooth finish, stereotyped faces, mass-produced hands with feet set on similar mannequin-like torsos. Invariably, they have false glass eyes imported from Germany, the kind that the blind use. They may also have teeth made by dentists and inserted into the mouth through a hole at the back of the head. Their wigs are made of artificial or even natural hair; their clothing is elaborate with the popular estofado embroidery in gold or silver.
“But notice how the beard of an antique santo is curled in a careful, painstaking way. It is very obvious that it has been done wit love and time for such minute details. The carvers of today cannot do these things anymore, “ Vecin shakes his head.
“They may try to copy these painstaking details; but their hands simply can’t, having been trained in an altogether different way.”
Santos in the 16th and 17th centuries were primitive, aboriginal, defective in anatomy and proportions, crude in hair and clothing. It was only in the 18th century that the art of sculpturing sacred images developed. The anatomy and proportions were corrected; the hair and folds of the garments became natural; now and then, though, there were stunted pieces. In the 19th century, Paete sculptors produced very realistic santos in the style of Martinez Montañez, the celebrated Spanish master.
It is interesting to note that santos usually have hollow bodies, not only to make them less heavy for processions, but also so that the hole at the back of the bodies may be used as a secret container of money, heirloom jewelry and important papers.
This, this symbolizes how everybody and everything in the household is consecrated to the family santo.