Sunday, October 16, 2011


About three years ago, I purchased this head of Christ from ebay posted by a Cebu-based dealer. It is an Agony in the Garden Christ, and it bears its original encarna, miraculously spared from termite attack which has eaten part of the paint.

As was the practice of many santo sellers who want to maximize their profits, the santo parts (head, right and left hand) had been broken up for sale separately. After several listings, only the left hand found a willing buyer; the Agony Christ and his right had went unsold.

When the price was further reduced and still remained bid-less, I contacted the dealer who agreed to sell the head and the right hand to me. I had planned to convert it into a Paciencia, the solitary figure of a seated Christ with bound hands, crowned and holding a reed scepter. I once had a processional santo of the Paciencia which many found too dark, gory and scary (it was kept in my living room); so, with a tinge of regret, I traded it for an antique Dolorosa. Now I want to have another one—and this Agony Christ is a perfect alternative.

The wooden head is medium size, just about 7 inches--under 10 inches including the neck. The head is finely carved, the nose long and lean, the parted beard not so detailed. The well-shaped lips frame the slit-like mouth that is slightly open and carved deeply.

The Agony Christ is outfitted with glass eyes that are looking up, with much of the white of the eye showing. The encarna reveals several paint layers, but the outermost shows a pale white skin cast. What I though to be a streak of blood emanating from one eye turned out to be discoloration caused by termite infestation. Fortunately, the heavy wood seemed impervious to insect damage.

I was already planning for the conversion of the Agony head into a Paciencia when, on ebay, I chanced upon this beautiful and expressive bust of Christ. I’ve never seen anything so sad and soulful, capturing Christ’s lonely pain and anguish, even without showing his battered body.

“Cristo Busto”, was how this representation of Christ was known, and I would see a similar ones again offered online. But the best-looking example that I ever saw was in the home of Pampanga’s eminent restorer, Mr. Thomas Joven. In his home, he kept an exquisite antique “Cristo Busto” in a glass case, rescued from the home of the old Malig Family during the height of the Pinatubo devastation of Bacolor.

Here, Christ meekly submits to his fate, his head tilted down, but with his pain-stricken eyes looking upward. Silver potencias crown his head, and likewise, a silver chain is strapped around his bruised neck. Circular drops of blood mark his face, dripping all the way down to his beaten body. It is a dramatic, compelling figure—and at that point, I decided to have a “Cristo Busto” instead.

To put a half-body on my Agony Christ head (Goodbye, right hand!), I, of course, went to the Apalit master santero -- Nick Lugue, no less. It’s a no-brainer work actually, but I was still interested in following up his work on the busto. He also fashioned a simple base on which the bust would be affixed. After a few weeks, it looked like this:

Then, he applied the initial gesso on the body, and the busto took on a more complete form. I was excited about the outcome that I simulated the final product by fitting a previously ordered kapok wig on the head and even placed borrowed potencias. My plan then was just to have Nick paint the Christ and proceed to give it a simple encarna, keeping the whitish complexion of the santo---that’s it, project finished.

But the image of the “Cristo Busto” I saw at Tom’s place kept haunting me. After some thought, I decided to bring the unfinished image to Tom and see if he could recreate it into something like the Malig busto. That was pretty much my job order, and Tom started fiddling with the image, a tedious process that took many months.

First, he decided to detach the busto from the plain base and then had the shoulders contoured so they won’t slope that much. Next, came the meticulous and time-consuming removal of encarna layers on the antique image. Day after day, Tom flaked off layers and layers of paint until the head was stripped all the way down to the wood:

Next, came the re-encarna, another critical process, which starts with priming the image with a coat of gesso, and then painting the head with oils. This is where the expertise of the encarnador comes in, as this entails precision (mixing of the proper desired flesh color and tint), control and personal style.

In this particular project, Tom painted the complexion of Christ with a delicate, muted pinkish tone, which I also prefer. Two large bruises cover his chest, accentuated in crimson. Christ is sweating deep red blood droplets, painted distinctively like dots with fine bloody trails. The overall result was amazing!

There's still much work to be done on this Cristo Busto, whose incredible transformation began almost a year ago. Christ will be given a new cape, and a chain with bambalinas for his neck. The base will be decorated with carved trims and painted.

When my Cristo Busto is finished, it will be placed inside a simple, front opening glass panelled antique urna which I have been saving for this project. When done, it will certainly be a bust to behold.

1 comment:

  1. Hello is there a way I can contact Nick Lugue the santero? The reason is, that I would like to see if its possible for me to commision him to make me a saint if possible. I live in California . Thanks!