Thursday, February 23, 2012

99. A Providential Find: AN IVORY SANTO NIÑO

Antique ivory Sto. Niños are rare to come by in the local market because such pieces are always prized by families and are wont to be pass to the next generation of owners as tradition. I do have a couple of old Sto. Niños made of wood, and an antique ivory Niño Dormido (sleeping Christ Child), but a standing antique ivory Niño--classically carved and dressed--has always eluded me for decades.

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)

Monday, February 13, 2012

98. RETRO-SANTO: La Purisima Concepcion of Malabon

LARAWANG TUNAY NG MAHAL NA BIRHEN, "La Purisima Concepcion, Malabon, Rizal". Ca. early 60s.

The Philippines’ titular patroness is the Immaculate Conception and practically every town in the country has a church or a chapel that honors our Lady under this title. The country’s leading shrine is the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros but one other popular place of worship is the Immaculate Conception Parish in Malabon (which started as a visita in 1600) which houses an ancient image of “La Purisima Concepcion”.

The Purisima image is attributed to an anonymous Pampanga carver in the 1700s, and is made from mulawin wood. Despite its antiquity, the image is in very good condition, lovingly cared for through the centuries by her devotees.

It is a smallish image, showing the young Mary with clasped hands atop a globe, dressed in vestments that gracefully drape her body, skillfully carved to give a windblown illusion of the Lady’s mantle. Wrapping her body is a ribbon-like veil that holds her hair at the back.

Several miracles have been attributed to our Lady. There is an 1880 account of a Chinese merchant who fell into the Malabon River, who was saved by a boat just in the nick of time. In gratitude, he donated a marble font to the church. In another later account, a group of businessman, fleeing the Japanese during the dark days of the last World War, hid under the church retablo and remained unseen by the pursuing enemy soldiers. They believed Our Lady covered them with Her mantle of protection. La Purisima was canonically crowned on 7 December 1986 on the basis of a Papal Bull issued in September 1986.

The image of La Purisima is the center of veneration every year, on her universal feast day, December 8, and the observance in Malabon lasts for several days. The first day is marked with a procession, while the Fisherman’s Festival is held the next day, highlighted with an evening Pagoda fluvial procession. Our Lady is welcomed back on land with greetings of Salve Regina. On Dec. 10, the Araw ng Concepcion is observed, marked with church baptisms, weddings, confirmations and barangay processions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012



About 6 years ago, I attended a special auction of the Bayanihan Collectors at the Loft, in Rockwell, only because it was walking distance from my place. It was late in the afternoon and the auction was about to end.

I quickly scanned the bourse tables and found this rare mini-calandra with a terra-cotta Christ. It was a bit-run down, but I saw it had promise—the carvings on the base were very detailed, and most of the calandra parts were intact, including the etched glass panels and the relief carvings on the trapezoidal cover.

The 8 inch Christ itself is very unusual because it is made from terra cotta and wood. The catafalque on which it rested even had its original satin cover. The base has a drapery pattern and is trimmed with floral carvings, now incomplete.

The dealer wasn’t even there when I inquired about the piece; I had to talk to him on the phone. When he told me of the price of the calandra, I thought it was reasonable enough, but I wasn’t into these things back then.

I let it go but I kept the business card of dealer Albert Dealino and promised to visit his place. Flash forward, early 2007. While I was cleaning my files, I found Abet’s card and this time, I checked if his contact number was still valid—it was! I had to reintroduce myself to him and then asked if I could visit his Fairview warehouse.

He agreed and so we set up a meeting on one rainy Sunday afternoon. It was a long drive to north Fairview but I found his home-cum-warehouse which was crammed with old things of all sort. It was then that I asked him about the calandra that I saw years ago in Rockwell. Surprisingly, he told me it went unsold and was still available. After a few minutes, he took it out and I was reacquainted once more with the object of desire that I thought had gotten away.

To make the story short, I got the piece at a discount and carted it home with the intention of having it restored to its former glory. Instinctively, I thought of assigning the work to Mr. Tom Joven, the accomplished ecclesiastical artist from Bacolor, whose background in furniture, I thought, would be valuable in a project that requires carpentry, carving and expert finishing.

Sure enough, when I brought the piece to him, his sharp eye noticed something amiss with the mini-calandra and its base. Later, he called me to say he believed that the calandra used to have a separate base—to which it was attached, at some point in time. He asked my approval if he could separate the calandra from its base; a new base will be made for it while the separated carved base can serve as a display stand for it or for some other santo or urna. A few months after, the calandra looked like this with its new, simplified base.

A few more weeks would elapsed before the calandra could be finished and primed for painting. Note the added floral trims, the handsome Grecian columns on the four corners and the arches to frame the four glass paneled sides of the calandra.

When Tom removed the catafalque that had been ‘upholstered’ with red satin, he found out that the sides were trimmed with fine gold embroidery in repeating trefoil pattern that have tarnished with age.

Work on the base proved to be faster. The floral carvings around the perimeter of the base were completed and then painted and gilded.

Finally, just this weekend, after a year of intense restoration, my mini-calandra project was finally finished. It was painted in black and with faux kamagong streaks. The floral trims, the columns, the serrated edgings and the relief carvings were all gold-leafed.

All it needs is a small agnus dei (Lamb of God) figure to sit on top of the calandra. Unfortunately, the old bubble glass panels were too fragile to be reused; new glass had to be ordered. 

Even then, with or without the base, the completed mini-calandra looked exceptionally beautiful.

As to the terra cotta Cristo, a nephew of mine who has a special interest in European ecclesiastical art noticed its similarity to the Cristo Yacente of the Hermandad del Sto. Entierro in Spain.

He also told me that what I have is certainly of European origin as terra cotta figures are made all over Europe like in Italy and Spain. I had thought of housing a smaller ivory Sto. Entierro for this calandra, but because of these inputs, I have decided to retain this original Cristo.

I am in the process of restoring it myself (I don’t know of any who does clay restoration!), but I have decently managed to put the broken parts together using tacky glue, filling the spaces with epoxy clay which I discovered recently. 

I have also succeeded in cleaning it using good, old dependable Wipe-Out. Its dirty brown complexion has given way to a pinkish hue, a dramatic change. It still remains to be seen if I have a future as a santo-restorer.

The hardest part of the restoration is over--a mourning shroud, a pillow and perhaps a small crown of thorns and potencias are all that the calandra needs as finishing touches. 

Jesus’s resurrection took awhile to happen---over a year for the restoration alone and a total of 6 years to bring home a treasure that I now consider one of my most valuable finds.

Monday, February 6, 2012

96. SANTOS: From the Santuario de San Antonio Charity Auction

A selection of santos (carved religious figures) from the Santuario de San Antonio Charity Auction of 100 Religious Items held from 17-20 October 2011, Parish Center Social Hall, Makati City.

38.5 X 9 X 6.75
Lot 052, SAN MIGUEL, WOOD, 22 X 11 X 10


74 X 32 X 20 IN.




IVORY FACE AND HANDS, 22.25 X 6.75 X 6.75
LOT 071, SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA, IVORY, 11.5 X 4.75 X 4.75 IN.


(All pictures from the auction catalogue of Santuario de San Antonio Charity Auction of 100 Religious Items)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

95. RETRO-SANTO: Ntra. Snra. de la Caridad, Bantay, Ilocos Sur

AY, APO! The image of Our Lady of Charity of Bantay, Ilocos Sur, the oldest Marian image of Ilocandia. Ca. 1954, taken at the Marian Congress Procession.

The oldest Marian image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the whole of Ilocandia, “Apo Caridad de Bantay” or Our Lady of Charity is of ivory. It was carved distinctively with a long, straight neck and large eyes. Of the “de vistir” type, it is dressed aith an apron called ‘delantar’ and with a ‘corea’ (cord) cinched at the waist.

First installed by Fray Montoya at the old Bantay Church, Apo Caridad has been the subject of deep veneration for centuries with many miracles attributed to her—foremost of which was the attempted burning of the town during the Malong Revolt of 1661. Apo Caridad was also held as responsible for saving the lives of Bishop Bernardo Ustariz and companion priests during the Diego Silang revolt of 1762-63. It also survived the bombings of the last world war.

It is said that the image is also imbued with the ability to walk--amorseco burs are regularly found on the hem of her vestments attested to by her caretaker Mrs. Nieves Pabo. This has led people to see her as a patroness and guardian of the fields. Apo Caridad was canonically crowned on 12 January 1956 by then Apostolic Nuncio, Egidio Vagnozzi.

The ivory head and hands of the image, however, were stolen on 4 November 1968, and to this day, they have not been recovered. The Archdiocesan Museum donated an unfinished head from which the image was reconstructed in the manner of the original.

There is another Mary figure bearing the appellation of “Apo Caridad”, which can be found in Agoo, La Union, and it is often inferred that the La Union devotion stemmed from that of the Bantay Virgin. Every year, the Nueva Segovia Pastoral Council holds an archdiocesan assembly on the date of Apo Caridad’s canonical coronation, celebrated on the Sunday closest to 12 January.