Wednesday, December 21, 2011

92. Keeping Her Pure & Simple: LA PURISIMA

My search for another Purisima Concepcion was spurred by my failure to get an beautiful ivory Mary with intricate silver metalworks and encased in its original (although broken) hurricane glass, complete with a carved topper.

I’ve never seen an antique santo so complete and available. The price, of course, was a major deterrent, and sadly, I had to pass it up; the Purisima went unsold, even after several price cuts.

When my favorite dealer called to say that he had an ivory Immaculate Conception for sale, I lost no time in looking it up. The fact that the santo belonged to another seller and that my dealer was just acting as a middleman did not hinder me at all from having a look. On my way to Pampanga, I took a short detour to his shop to check the item.

When I finally saw it, I was smitten by the antique piece—never mind that it did not have a base and that its metal works have all been lost. Its right foot also had a small missing wooden piece which I easily repaired with clay epoxy.

The head was of white ivory, of very good quality. The facial carving was excellent, depicting Mary at a tender age. It was outfitted with glass eyes and a human hair wig. It’s surprising that her long tresses were intact, save for a few thinning strands.

In contrast, the hands were carved in the basic “tinidor” (fork-like) style, with almost straight fingers with little definition. All fingers, however, were intact.

Remarkable too were here pierced ears—one ear still retained minute dangling earrings of gold and mother-of-pearl.

The vestments, though badly tattered and frayed, had most of the gold thread embroidery, which meant that they could be transferred on new fabric. There were quite a number of interesting details on her satin dress. On her chest was embroidered the Virgin’s monogram, AVM.

Sewn on the hem of her vestment was a small brass sun with a smiling face, which, on a regular ivory santo, would be a separate metal piece wired to the base.

It took some time for me to have the image restored by Dr. Raffy Lopez. First to be made was the globe base—which was an exact copy of the base of the Purisima that got away. The base had side trims of flower-and-leaf motif, with a serpent looped around it.

The vestments were exact patterns of her original clothes. The intricate embroidery was salvaged and re-sewn on an old, faded white satin, while the long shoulder cape was done in blue.

Meanwhile, the metalworks were designed ordered from metalsmith Dodong Azares. I opted for a simple 12-star halo, matched with a more complex Marian ‘corona’.

The biggest challenge was replicating the tiny, delicate earrings. Raffy’s jeweler friend, Noel Menguito, came to the rescue by painstakingly replicating the design of the original earrings in gold.

The final improvement was giving more volume to the long, but thinning hair of the Purisima using real human hair extensions. Mounted on its new base, my Purisima Concepcion was finally completed after over two months of restoration, ready to be taken home.

Standing next to my more elaborate ivories, my Purisima looks simple enough, the way a young Mary should be—no fancy frills, no extraneous accessories--giving credence to the saying that indeed, simplicity is beauty, pure and true.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

91. Friday's Find Is Loving & Giving : JESUS NAZARENO

I took Friday off last week as I thought I needed a longer weekend to recover from the stress of writing, presenting, pre-producing and shooting a couple of commercials. I had not planned on going out on that day—until my Plaridel dealer texted me about some items in his shop “that may be of some interest to me”. I usually dismiss nebulous messages like this—in the past, a dealer had sounded me off about “great vintage paintings” he had, but when I rushed to check, they were just awful paper prints.

But thank God for MMS.
In a few minutes, I received a text photo of the stuff he had in his shop and I knew right away that these were indeed, special, interesting items. So, after lunch, I hopped into my car and drove to his Bulacan shop, a good 40 kms. away. I was pleased with all the items shown to me--I got most of them. But my best and most exciting find yet was not even on display at his shop. It was actually taken out from a room when I was done checking the initial batch of santos on the shelf.

The last santo shown to me turned out to be a small 10 inch., but exquisitely detailed Nazareno in its original urna of narra wood. One look and I was smitten by the impeccable craftsmanship of this santo, which, relatively remained in good condition after all these years.

Surprisingly, the velvet dress is very simple—it has none of the heavy embroidery associated with the vestments of expensive santos, with only sequins, metal appliqués and lace to trim it.

It had an underskirt made of cheap abaca. Yet, from the looks of it, this santo is a notch level in quality than other old Nazarenos I’ve seen.

The face alone has a very human-like, sorrowful expression, complete with an open mouth that shows teeth, amazing details considering that the head is just about the size of a lanzones fruit. The unusual blue eyes—mere slits on Jesus’ face—are of glass.

The santo has lost its outermost dusky brown encarna complexion, although traces of brown paint can still be seen on its legs. The secondary encarna of lighter shade is what remains on His face. Clearly, the carver who made this was a gifted and a highly-skilled artisan.

Then there are the metal accessories made of real silver. It had all the accoutrements of a Nazareno—from the silver slippers, tres potencias, crown and bambalina neck chain, while the cross came complete with cantoneras.

The only missing piece was the silver belt. Undressed and unwigged, the wonderful detailing of the Nazareno were further revealed.

The anatomy was precise—from the torso all the way down to his delicately carved feet. The articulated arms were meticulously jointed at the shoulder and the elbows, allowing the limbs to move 360˚.

The posture of the small santo is accurate, as tradition depicts the Nazareno kneeling on his left knee, His body slightly angled by the weigh of the cross.

The figure is mounted on a realistically-painted “stoney” base framed by golden wood moldings. I can’t wait to have this Nazareno restored—all it needs is a new wig, a belt replacement, a new undergarment and a set of embroidered vestments.

And how much did I spend for my fabulous Friday find? I can’t say I got the cheap. But it's not every day that you find 4 quality santos in one shop, all in one day--and al available for the taking. The Nazareno piece itself is fantastic find, and just needs a bit of tender loving care to restore it to its original state. Now I know why they say with glee-- “Thank Good It’s Friday!”.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

90.Maningning a Virgen: SASMUAN’S STA. LUCIA

MANINGNING A VIRGEN AT MARTIR: Imagen de Santa Lucia, V. y M., que se venera en la Parroquia de Sexmoan (Pampanga). From a 1907 novenario, “Santa Lucia: Macasariling patulunan ding malulula mata”, Imprenta de Santos y Bernal, Sta. Cruz, Manila.

Venite all’argine
Barchette mie
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Days here are heavenly
Nights are pure ecstasy
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Long before Perry Como was crooning a song tribute to Sta. Lucia, the people of Sasmuan have been singing praises and prayers to this Sicilian virgin-martyr whom they have taken to their hearts as their very own. The singular devotion to their patroness must really be so widespread and profound that it merited the printing of novenarios or novena booklets. A 1907 example is poetically entitled “Novenario Qng Maningning a Virgen at Martir Santa Lucia, macasariling patulunan ding maluula mata” (Novena to the radiant virgin and martyr, St. Lucy, personal patron of those with afflictions of the eye). The 9-day novena, to be started on 5 December and to end on the saint’s feast day, 13 December, was designed to answer the requests of devotees seeking cures for various sicknesses, specifically those with vision problems (…Ya icabus no qng angang catagcuan at paquiabutna qñg alanangang pacalulu ning Dios ing nanu mang calam, macasarili ing panimanman ampon ing pangaulu na saquit; qñg uliniti patulunan yang macasarili caring mabubulag…)


The invocation of St. Lucy against eye problems stemmed from her dramatic, but largely legendary life. Lucy was the daughter of noble parents. As a young virgin, she dedicated her life to helping the poor, giving up wordly goods in the process. She had quite a number of pagan admirers so she disfigured her looks by plucking out her eyes to discourage them. Miraculously, her eyes were restored to her and this started her patronage. In another instance, she was forced to work in a brothel, but she was rendered immobile; the guards could not move her. Finally, she was martyred in Syracuse, Sicily under Emperor Diocletian by having her throat cut. Lucy’s name is associated with the Latin word for light—lux—further bolstering her patronage. Sta. Lucia is one of the few female saints whose names occur in the canons of Saint Gregory, where special prayers and antiphons are recited in her honor.

The image of Sta. Lucia, enshrined at the Sasmuan Church of the same name is of wood, carved in the round or de bulto. It shows a young crowned santa, of no more than 14 years, and standing a little over a 4 feet high on a base, dressed in girdled robe and red mantle. She carries her traditional emblems: the palm of martyrdom on her right hand, and two eyes on a platter on her left. In other parts of the world, Sta. Lucia’s emblems include a sword, the instrument of her martyrdom and a lighted lamp, evocative of her name. Gaspar de San Agustin records in his Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, that the image of Santa Lucia has been “venerated since long ago”. At the very onset, since the construction of the first church by Fr. Jose Duque in the latter part of the 17th century, the parish has always been placed under the advocation of the virgin saint. Stylistically, the santo has a folksy quality, and may have been carved by a local artisan in the late 18th to the early part of the 19th century.

There is a counterpart image of this Sta. Lucia in the church of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur. In contrast to the one in Sasmuan, this 18th century Sta. Lucia is of the de vestir type, clothed in a dress completely filled with hundreds of silver ex votos, tiny representations of body parts in metal, affixed by devotees seeking cure for particular body ailments. The bewigged santo’s face has blackened through centuries of worship and exposure to candle fumes.

While Scandinavian countries observe St. Lucy’s Day with a quiet festival of lights, Sasmuan celebrates with an infectious, frenetic beat. During the town’s January 6 fiesta, Kuraldal, a mass rite characterized by non-stop, frenzied dancing is held, graced by the presence of much smaller image of Sta. Lucia. In this one big dancing party, palm-wielding townfolks, like some wild men possessed, jump, wiggle and shake as they scream out repeatedly: “Viva Sta. Lucia! Puera sakit!” Favor-seekers do not just include those with eye problems, but also barren women. Interestingly, Sta. Lucia is also invoked against other diseases like throat infections and hemorrhages (Lucia’s mother suffered from hemorrhages, cured after praying over the tomb of St. Agatha).

The veneration of the age-old image of Sta. Lucia in Sasmuan reflects the solid faith of the Kapampangan people even in the midst of adversities, steadfast in the Christian belief of divine intercession through the supplications of saints and of a God who never sleeps. So when the time comes for him to seek, so shall he find—surely and without fail-- with help from Sta. Lucia: …nung ating pagnasan ayabut nanu mang macasarili qng Dios uli ning pamamilatan nang Santa Lucia”.


I found this 24 inch carved-in-the-round San Isidro Labrador in a shop cum residence of an Angeles antique dealer. Everything about it was bad—it was badly painted, badly damaged, badly ignored by his buyers as I’ve seen it on the same table, gathering dust for what seemed like forever.

The redeeming quality of this santo however, is its fairly good carving. I thought I could have this easily restored back to its original condition, but where was the angel? The ox and the plow? The kneeling landlord?

To my amazement, the antique dealer asked me to open an old cabinet, and inside one shelf, I found the missing parts! The plow was damaged, the angel and its tin wings were slathered with layers of paint, the ox had a broken leg and the kneeling landlord had lost its kneeler as well as its features! These tableau parts were not as nicely carved as San Isidro Labrador—but they are original to the image, and more importantly, they are 90% complete.

I made an offer which was gladly accepted, and I took San Isidro home with me. I kept it in my room, the loose parts in a shoebox. In a month, I decided to take it to Dr. Raffy Lopez to see what he could do with it.

I also told him that this was a no-rush assignment, asking him to focus on another ivory santo project which I deemed more important. We sort of agreed to update each other by text, and he would keep me posted by sending work-in-progress mms photos.

In a little over a month, he gave me a ring to tell me that San Isidro was done! Now, that was fast! I picked it up on a week-end and was amazed to see a completed tableau—with all the disparate parts repaired, re-painted and then assembled on a new simple base. See what a bit of TLC can do to a santo that looked so hopeless just a few months ago:

Sunday, October 16, 2011


About three years ago, I purchased this head of Christ from ebay posted by a Cebu-based dealer. It is an Agony in the Garden Christ, and it bears its original encarna, miraculously spared from termite attack which has eaten part of the paint.

As was the practice of many santo sellers who want to maximize their profits, the santo parts (head, right and left hand) had been broken up for sale separately. After several listings, only the left hand found a willing buyer; the Agony Christ and his right had went unsold.

When the price was further reduced and still remained bid-less, I contacted the dealer who agreed to sell the head and the right hand to me. I had planned to convert it into a Paciencia, the solitary figure of a seated Christ with bound hands, crowned and holding a reed scepter. I once had a processional santo of the Paciencia which many found too dark, gory and scary (it was kept in my living room); so, with a tinge of regret, I traded it for an antique Dolorosa. Now I want to have another one—and this Agony Christ is a perfect alternative.

The wooden head is medium size, just about 7 inches--under 10 inches including the neck. The head is finely carved, the nose long and lean, the parted beard not so detailed. The well-shaped lips frame the slit-like mouth that is slightly open and carved deeply.

The Agony Christ is outfitted with glass eyes that are looking up, with much of the white of the eye showing. The encarna reveals several paint layers, but the outermost shows a pale white skin cast. What I though to be a streak of blood emanating from one eye turned out to be discoloration caused by termite infestation. Fortunately, the heavy wood seemed impervious to insect damage.

I was already planning for the conversion of the Agony head into a Paciencia when, on ebay, I chanced upon this beautiful and expressive bust of Christ. I’ve never seen anything so sad and soulful, capturing Christ’s lonely pain and anguish, even without showing his battered body.

“Cristo Busto”, was how this representation of Christ was known, and I would see a similar ones again offered online. But the best-looking example that I ever saw was in the home of Pampanga’s eminent restorer, Mr. Thomas Joven. In his home, he kept an exquisite antique “Cristo Busto” in a glass case, rescued from the home of the old Malig Family during the height of the Pinatubo devastation of Bacolor.

Here, Christ meekly submits to his fate, his head tilted down, but with his pain-stricken eyes looking upward. Silver potencias crown his head, and likewise, a silver chain is strapped around his bruised neck. Circular drops of blood mark his face, dripping all the way down to his beaten body. It is a dramatic, compelling figure—and at that point, I decided to have a “Cristo Busto” instead.

To put a half-body on my Agony Christ head (Goodbye, right hand!), I, of course, went to the Apalit master santero -- Nick Lugue, no less. It’s a no-brainer work actually, but I was still interested in following up his work on the busto. He also fashioned a simple base on which the bust would be affixed. After a few weeks, it looked like this:

Then, he applied the initial gesso on the body, and the busto took on a more complete form. I was excited about the outcome that I simulated the final product by fitting a previously ordered kapok wig on the head and even placed borrowed potencias. My plan then was just to have Nick paint the Christ and proceed to give it a simple encarna, keeping the whitish complexion of the santo---that’s it, project finished.

But the image of the “Cristo Busto” I saw at Tom’s place kept haunting me. After some thought, I decided to bring the unfinished image to Tom and see if he could recreate it into something like the Malig busto. That was pretty much my job order, and Tom started fiddling with the image, a tedious process that took many months.

First, he decided to detach the busto from the plain base and then had the shoulders contoured so they won’t slope that much. Next, came the meticulous and time-consuming removal of encarna layers on the antique image. Day after day, Tom flaked off layers and layers of paint until the head was stripped all the way down to the wood:

Next, came the re-encarna, another critical process, which starts with priming the image with a coat of gesso, and then painting the head with oils. This is where the expertise of the encarnador comes in, as this entails precision (mixing of the proper desired flesh color and tint), control and personal style.

In this particular project, Tom painted the complexion of Christ with a delicate, muted pinkish tone, which I also prefer. Two large bruises cover his chest, accentuated in crimson. Christ is sweating deep red blood droplets, painted distinctively like dots with fine bloody trails. The overall result was amazing!

There's still much work to be done on this Cristo Busto, whose incredible transformation began almost a year ago. Christ will be given a new cape, and a chain with bambalinas for his neck. The base will be decorated with carved trims and painted.

When my Cristo Busto is finished, it will be placed inside a simple, front opening glass panelled antique urna which I have been saving for this project. When done, it will certainly be a bust to behold.