THE PREACHER SAINT, San Antonio de Padua, was born in Lisbon, Portugal and is venerated today as one of the greatest Franciscan saints.
Saint Anthony of Padua, the great Franciscan thaumaturgist, was often described as short and even chubby. The first biographies of the Saint made some references to his physical stature, suggesting that he was ‘robust’ and that he had a ‘Mediterranean’ complexion. In the 1500s, Girolamo Romanino depicted Anthony as a slightly balding man with a rounded face.
This antique ivory santo of the famous preacher saint vividly captured those descriptions. The chubby-faced saint was obtained from a local Manila shop, and which I found on display while passing by the said antique store. The ensemble was complete, the santo wears its original Franciscan habit, frayed and tattered, but with the gold embroidery intact. He holds a sprig of lilies on one hand and cradles an orb-carrying Nino on the other arm.
I was struck by the quality of both ivory and carving--the face of San Antonio and the Christ Child are wrought beautifully in white ivory, painted with great detail, from the perfectly arched eyebrows right down to the irises of their eyes. Yet, the image also shows hints of folksiness, as gleaned from the way his fingers are rendered, and the awkward stiffness of his stance.
I had not planned on acquiring this image, and for months it lay displayed inside a replacement virina, mounted on its gilded carved base. I was told that it had been reserved, so I had sort of given up on this beautiful santo. A few more months passed before I learned that San Antonio was back on the market, and it was offered to me at a reasonable discount.
In one of his sermons, the good saint wrote "The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so." How lucky I am that this piece--in all its fatness-- has come out of its hiding to shine as one of my prized and favorite ivory santos in my collection..