That is why, I was a bit skeptical when I received a text from a Manila antique dealer who informed me that he had an antique ivory Sto. Niño available for sale. I visualized it to be another reconstituted image, probably an ivory Niño separated from a San Jose or a Holy Family tableau, redressed and put on an old peaña, passed off as an original piece.
But when he sent me a photo by phone, what I saw excited me. Though a bit grainy, I could see that the small Christ Child—with an ivory head and hands—was an original individual piece.
The figure is a classical depiction of the Infant Jesus, styled similar to the Sto. Niño de San Agustin, as deduced from the short, spread-out cape, the short tunic and the pair of pants, all with simple gold embroidery. Judging from the carving style, this is clearly a 19th century piece.
Striking too were the facial features of the Christ Child: sweet, innocent looking, with just a hint of the smile. The expressive face had set-in glass eyes, and sported a double chin with lines on the narrow neck.
Then there are the silverworks, which—though bent out of shape and blackened with age—were all surprisingly intact: crown, orb and scepter. They were finely detailed too, and when cleaned, the silver accessories still gleamed with their gold plating.
Missing was the base, as well as several ivory fingertips, flaws that are easy to fix. One foot had lost its tip but I quickly repaired that with a bit of epoxy clay.
I was lucky too---I was the first to see this lovely Niño which impressed me at first sight. It was well within my reach too, so a deal was sealed in less than half a day. By lunchtime, I had the antique Niño in my possession after a quick cab ride to Manila.
As always, this, I thought, was a perfect restoration project for Dr. Raffy Lopez, so off I went to his place to show off my new find, which he confirmed to be of 19th c. make.
I wanted him to follow the cut and style of the original vestments, which fortunately were kept with the antique piece. Raffy later used these as guides for the new set of clothes.The battered crown, scepter and orb were fixed by Dr. Lopez’s jeweler-friend, Noel Menguito, who confirmed they were of gold plated silver.
I wanted a simple base, perhaps a gold-leafed lotus type peaña, but Raffy prevailed on me to use a traditional and more ornate mortar-shaped base often associated with colonial Sto. Niños. I thought that kind of base is too bulky for such a small santo, but he assured me that it will be proportionately made for my 7 inch Niño, so I reluctantly agreed.
The restoration work took longer than the usual as Raffy was in the midst of having his house improved and refurbished as well. Besides, he had just finished a major exhibit at the Intramuros. After 2 months, a picture message of my Niño was sent to me by phone. It showed the image with repaired fingers, standing on a new base.
A week more, and the restoration was complete. The result was a regal-looking Sto. Niño, resplendent in red and yellow cape and a tunic made from vintage satin fabric.
For my newly-restored Sto. Niño, it was love at first sight, all over again. I am glad that I was at the right place, at the right time—but more importantly, the antique image was available at the right price. Oh, the workings of Divine Providence.
(Other pics courtesy of Romain Garry Evangelista Lazaro)