Monday, December 27, 2010

46. The Manuel L. Morató Collection: RELIGION IN ART

By Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy Pictures by Dominador Suba

(reprinted from The Sunday Times Magazine, March 17, 1968 issue, p. 34-35)

Collector Morató poses with one of two “Kneeling Angels” made of solid molave which shows evidence of the Chinese chool of carving. Taken from Northern Luzon. It was used in the late 1700 as a lampstand.

A coin started it all. A thing of the world. What one would render, in a manner of speaking, to Caesar. But it led to what is now one of the most comprehensive collections of Philippine Religious Art dating as far back as the 17th century, an assemblage obviously running counter, because of its spiritual motif, to its unspiritual, “materialistic” beginnings.

“Calvary in a Bottle” The diminutiveness (10 inches; 24 cm.) of this Crucifixion piece taken from Vigan, Ilocos Sur shows in contrast with the larger piece in the background. Its vintage is latter part of 1800.

For what Manuel L. Morató has gathered together since his father started him off on his hobby with a large solid gold coin (vintage 1700) brought home from Europe are choice collector’s items annotating the spiritual climate of Spanish Philippines.

In the Morató collection, par of which was shown during the first of the series of exhibits on Philippine Religious Art sponsored by the University of the Philippines recently, are items ranging from wooden statuary, ivory statuary, bas-relief, virinas, paintings, and sundry pieces, all echoing the combined influences of art and religion on the culture of the Filipino artisan.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel”
This virina family heirloom from Pampanga has fishbone face and hands, a golden crown and clothes heavily embroidered in gold and silver threads.

“Many of these were direct purchases,” says Morató, whose personal associations with equally culture-minded friends helped to broaden his field of collection. By word of mouth, people came to know of what he had and would want to have, and they came hoping to sell and/or exchange their own stuff. Invariably, collector Morató, his eye set only on the truly worthwhile and rare, had had to buy the whole lot of antiques, if only to acquire the chosen piece and in one particular instance, he had to barter a jeep for a virina, a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. Such wholesale buying left him with items that he had no need for—which he gladly gave away at the drop of a hint.

“The Lady at the Foot of the Cross” A ‘virina’ with fishbone face and hands, and polychromed wooden body. Source is Batangas.

Now organized and set up in two shops—the Bravo stores—one of which is in the ground floor of the Manila Hotel and the other in the family office building on Tomas Morató Avenue in Quezon City, the collection attracts customers, dealers, and antique ‘aficionados’ interested in viewing such items as a Dolorosa with fishbone face and hands, a crucifix carved out of solid ivory, an angel carved from hardwood, a bas-relief of the Blessed Virgin breast-feeding three children, an intricately carved altar piece with the image of the Immaculate Conception inside, a pair of tabernacle doors with icon paintings on the wood, the crucifixion tableau set up inside a glass bottle standing 24 centimeters high, and many others.

Helping him manage this extensive collection are three ladies who run the two stores, a carpenter-carver who restor4es missing portions, a varnisher and four utility boys.

“Crucifix with Silver Décor” This piece, taken from Sta. Cruz, Laguna, is made of soild ivory with glass eyes and stands 19 inches high. Traces of 18th century Chinese influence show in the workmanship.

The items in the collection comes from various points of the country, from Batangas to Bicol, from Ilocos to Pampanga, indicating by these far-flung origins, the Catholicity of the faith, inculcated by the Spanish colonizers among the natives of that era. The Virgin, the Holy Child, the Saints—they all evoke identical religious empathy wherever the Filipino has become a willing Christian convert.

And he has manifested his empathy in the religious antiquary that he has fashioned with faith and which has managed to survive—like that faith—through the centuries.

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