Friday, December 27, 2013


 WHAT CHILD IS THIS? A large, 15 inch antique Nativity Nino from Guatemala, with a short haircut (Personal Collection).

Christmas is a time not just for bringing out Nativity sets but also for heirloom figures of the reclining Infant Jesus, to be put on display at home--wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a makeshift manger, often under the Christmas tree. In the early hours of Christmas, just after the Christmas Eve mass, the carved figure of the Child Jesus (Bambino, Niño de la Navidad) is taken out from the belen, to be kissed by the faithful as an act of reverence on the occasion of His birth. A spread of antique and vintage "Nativity Ninos" are on this spread .

ON MARY'S LAP IS SLEEPING. A contemporary Bambino, carved in wood from the Vecin Workshop, just 6 inches long. (Francisco Vecin Collection).

WHOM ANGELS GREET WITH ANTHEMS SWEET. A century-old, anatomically-correct Nino, with pronounced Chinese features. He wears a silver diadem and holds an or, now lost. One finger is stuck in his mouth.

WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCH ARE KEEPING. A 14 inch sleeping wooden Nino, with clenched fists, of vintage make. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THIS, THIS IS CHRIST THE KING. An ancient Nino from Bohol, carved from heavy wood, with its original encarna, now peeling with age. It is just 8 inches long. Its legs are crossed. (Personal Collection)

WHOM SHEPHERDS GUARD. An antique Nino of lightwood, with feet repaired, 7 inches long (Personal Collection).

AND ANGELS SING.An old, lifelike carving of the Child Jesus with full hair and defined musculature. 8 inches long. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

HASTE, HASTE TO BRING HIM LAUD. A miniature Bambino, 6 inches long, of contemporary make, from the Vecin Workshop. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THE BABE. An antique figure of the sleeping Jesus, with a stocky body and crossed legs. A superb folk example just 6 inches in length. (Francisco Vecin Collection)

THE SON OF MARY. An old Belen figure of the Child Jesus, put on display during the holidays at Our Lady of Grace Church, Mabalacat City. Devotees kiss this image after the Midnight Mass.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


 (Excerpts from Chapter 2, The Arts of the Philippines 1521-1957, ed. By Winfield Scott Smith, Manila, 1958. Published by Associated Publishers, Inc. , p. 9, 14, 15). 

SAN ANTONIO. Ivory polychromed and gilded. Philippine-Chinese school of the 18th century. Unsuual in that the figure is rendered in ivory, harking back to an earlier tradition. The ivory has been enriched with paint and gold leaf (F. Zobel Collection). 

 SAN JOSE. The head and hands were usually fashioned of ivory while the body was a wooden structure under the heavily embroidered robes. Often, human hair was used and frequently, gold, silver and previous jewels were used with the embroidery. (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection). 

NUESTRA SEÑORA DEL ROSARIO. An execellent example of highly finished and elaborately conceived images popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and still treasured as family heirlooms. (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection). 

 SAN ANTONIO. Ivory figurine clothes in robes embroidered with prescious metals. The hair is real. Probably late 18th or early 19th century. . (Miss Adelaida Paterno Collection).

A word should be said about sculpture in ivory. Unlike wooden sculpture, large numbers of old ivory have survived to our day. Their survival was caused, not only by their small size, but by the intrinsic value of the material involved. On the whole, the ivory statuettes lack the vigor of their wooden brethren. Ivory lends itself to technical virtuosity, distracting to the spectator and apparently irresistible to the ordinary craftsman. The worst examples replace expression with simple enumeration. They become mere catalogues, of eyebrows, toe nails, buckles and glass eyes with nothing in particular to hold them together as artistic statements.

The craftsmen who carved them were perhaps too skilful and copied their models over-conscientiously, putting manual dexterity over imagination. As forms of artistic expression, the majority of these figurines are of little artistic and historical value, though they are pleasant enough in their Victorian quaintness, especially when furnished with glass eyes, real hair and elaborately embroidered robes that hide, more often than not, a wooden body.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

176. SAN VICENTE FERRER: The Puzzling Case of a Preacher Saint

 SAN VICENTE FERRER, the preacher-saint, with a stance unlike any other. He holds no book, and he doesn't have the "pointing finger" stance common to San Vicente santos. Instead, he has two clenched fists which could have held other items. Show here restored wearing vestments fashioned from an antique robe of another santa.

 Having studied the iconography of saints for quite awhile, I was confident that I could identify major santos in the Philippines based on emblems and attributes. I was stumped, however, by the riddle of a small folk santo figure, found in one of those friendly shops along Sta. Rita exit in Bulacan.

At first glance, I thought I had found a San Vicente Ferrer, the preacher saint and one of the most common santos in rural Philippines.

It had the trademark tonsure haircut, a portly face and figure, even a pair of tiny wings, nailed at a strange angle on the edge of the santo’s back, thus lying flat instead of seen spread out up front.

Even stranger was his pair of hands, which were attached to the wire arms to the body. Both were carved in a clenched position, as if holding objects. Traditionally, San Vicente is depicted holding a Book of Judgment with his left hand, and with his right arm and pointing finger raised upward, so there is certainly something amiss with this image. A clenched fist can’t possibly hold a book!

Could the santo have held a trumpet in his other hand—a rare attribute that symbolizes the announcement of the Judgement Day? Or could it be that this is composite image,  made from different santo parts? The santo head does not quite plug smoothly into the head hole of the mannequin body. But the legs, as one can see, are consistent with the make of the santo head, right down to the paint finish and proportion. Granted that this was a put-together santo, whose male santo body was used to complete the image—one with two clenched fists?

The only santo figures I know with the same stance are the angels of San Roque and San Isidro Labrador. San Roque’s companion angel holds in both hands, a plaque with a prayer against pestilence, while San Isidro’s holds a plow with both hands. Could this be the body of an Angel then—remember, it came with wooden wings!

 Of course, I entertained the possibility that this might be an altogether different saint—San Pedro Martir, perhaps, who looks similar to San Vicente. His attributes include a palm of martyrdom, a sword and a machete—but then, the santo head has no slit to put a machete in.

Regardless who this santo was, I thought It was worth restoring. In fact, I was confident I could personally restore it myself.

I began by repairing the missing parts of his feet with clay epoxy. I also enlarged the crevice for his head and repositioned the tiny wings.

From scrap embroidered vestment materialsI had saved from a past santo project, I fashioned a simple tunic with a belt.

As a final touch, I converted a round earring with fretwork into a halo. The results of this restoration are on this page.

He will, for the time being, be a San Vicente Ferrer to me. Maybe I’ll have a small wooden trumpet made, to hold in his right hand.

And maybe, I’ll see if I can coax him to hold a book. I may not have been able to solve the identity of this strange santo, but at least I managed to put him on the path to salvation!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

175. Retro-Santo: STA. INES OF THE RODRIGUEZ FAMILY, Bacolor

AGNES WITH AN AGNUS. The private image of Sta. Ines, owned by the Rodriguez Family of Sta. Ines, Bacolor, Pampanga, as she appeared in the early 1970s.

One of the most prominent families of Bacolor were the Rodriguezes, who were part of a much bigger Rodriguez clan that originated from Bataan and Mariveles. The Bacolor branch had as its progenitor, Don Olegario Rodriguez who settled his family in Barrio Sta. Ines.  A descendant, Dna. Gorgonia Rodriguez y Yabut (b. 19 Sept. 1886/ d. 14 Nov. 1960) came to live in the "Bale Sim" family mansion as its resident-in-charge in the early 20th century.

Into the large, art-filled Rodriguez Mansion, Dna. Oniang added the devotional image of Sta. Ines. Touring Europe in the 1920s, she and her entourage visited Spain, and had an image of the young virgin-martyr of Rome wrought there. The 4 foot plus image of Sta. Ines (St. Agnes) is iconographically depicted with her attributes—a palm of martyrdom on her right hand, and a lamb on her left, symbolizing her purity (also, the Latin word for a lamb is agnus, a play on her name).  The completed santa was brought home to Bacolor where it has now become a much treasured and revered family heirloom.

Though privately owned, the Rodriguezes allow Sta. Ines to be brought out during the saint's feast day,  21 January.