Sunday, April 27, 2014


WHO CAN SHE BE? An antique ivory-faced Virgin, with missing parts, surfaced in the market a few years ago. Her identification remains a mystery, but I suspect she represents "Our Lady of Light", and not "Our Lady of Consolation", as she was previously named by the seller.

 The identification of santos seem simple enough; one need only to look at his emblems and attributes to pin down his/her identity. A more diligent study is needed when the major attributes are missing—the attitude of the saint, his facial features, the pose of his hands, the color of the garment--can help in the identification process.

It is easy to assume that santos in a tableau (an assemblage of more than one holy figure) are easier to identify ( e.g. Crucifixion, Holy Trinity, Coronation of the Virgin), but not in the case of this ivory Marian tableau, whose identity continues to baffle me.

The dealer who showed this to me told me it was a Virgen del Carmen. At first glance, it did look like Our Lady of Mount Carmel—for it featured a small bearded ivory figure emerging from what looked like the fires of purgatorio (purgatory). The depiction of souls in purgatory are usually represented with half-bodies engulfed by flames and European paintings often include these souls (anima sola) with the image of the Virgen del Carmen.

But then, Virgen del Carmen is often represented in brown vestments, and is shown seated with a Nino—much unlike this standing Virgin in gold-embroidered clothes. Also, if this were a Virgen del Carmen, her right hand would have been in a grasping pose, to hold a scapular.

This observation then, led me to think that this was Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. I have seen figures of souls in the representations of the Virgen del Rosario, a known intercessor in saving souls from the flames of purgatory.

 However, when I further examined the figure of the man with outstretched hand at the base of the santo, I was surprised to see a pair of eyes on his back. A closer scrutiny clearly showed that the eyes were part of the features of a demon creature about to swallow up the hapless soul!! This unusual scene is depicted in the representation of Our Lady of Light or Ntra. Sra. De la Salavacion, simply here in the Philippines as Salvacion.

 “Salvacion”was one of the favorite Christian images of veneration introduced by the Jesuits, closely associated with their missionary work in Europe and in America. The inspiration for this image came from Palermo, Italy, where Jesuit Giovanni Antonio Genovese asked a nun to create the most effective visual representation for this devotion. The nun saw the image in her vision and had an artist paint it. The painting was housed in the Leon Cathedral in 1732.

 In the Salvacion tableau, a standing Virgin holding the Child Jesus would have her right, outstretched hand snatching a soul from the mouth of a demon—which would have been consistent with this figure, save for the pose of her right hand—the manikin hand could have been repositioned at some time.

 Opposite this—emerging from the cloudy base as seen in this tableau-- would have been the figure of a winged angel offering a basket of hearts, symbolizing saved souls. A pair of smaller angels would have hovered above the Virgin’s head, ready to crown her.

It would have been easy to verify this—there would have been holes or remnants of dowels and wires on the back of the Virgin that are tell-tale signs by which the angels were attached to the body of the Virgin . Unfortunately, this tableau was sold soon, so there is no way to examine the tableau and ascertain the image’s true identity.

 Our Lady of Light is invoked for protection against storms, plagues and other natural disasters. In modern times, she is the patron of electricians.

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