Sunday, March 27, 2011

57. The Saintmakers: DOMINGO TEOTICO

Domingo Teotuico was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila in 1853, which already had a fledgling carving industry at that time. An artistic child, he enrolled at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura when he came of age, training under Lorenzo Rocha. Under the accomplished saintmaker Leoncio Asuncion, he learned how to make figural models.

After eight years of study, Domingo felt that he was ready to make it on his own. He opened a shop along Palma St., in Quiapo, and became a member of the “Gremio de los Escultores”. He quickly gained a reputation as a sculptor of note by winning 2nd prize in the Open Competition sponsored by the Sociedad de Escultores de Sta. Cruz in 1880. In 1882, he won a Silver Medal for a bust of Pope Gregory XV, at the tercentenary celebration of Sta. Teresa de Jesus.

The next few years, he won more accolades: Bronze Medal for genre sculptor at the 1887 Exposicion Regional de Filipinas (Madrid, Spain), Honorable Mention for Sculpture at the Exposicion General (Barcelona, 1888), 2nd Prize at the Tercentenary Celebration of St. John of the Cross (Manila, 1892), Silver Medal for a carved set of furniture at the 1895 Exposicion Regional de Filipinas.

Teotico was also elected as a ‘cabeza de barangay’ (town head) and his nationalist fervor found expression during the 1896 Philippine Revolution. He became the Communications Chief and Commandant of the military in his district. Teotico even did administrative work for the newspaper “La Solidaridad” in 1899.

During the American Regime, Teotico continued with his sculpture business, winning a Bronze Medal at the Saint Louis Exposition of 1904. Most of his works are religious statues commissioned by individuals such as the santos used for the private devotion of the family of Don Martin Ocampo.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The historic Church of San Agustin in Intramuros was one of the few structures to survive the last World War. Built on solid ground and located “in the most beautiful part of the city” as Gaspar de San Agustin noted, the San Agustin Church was built in 1587, of hewn stone from Guadalupe, San Mateo and Meycauayan. Finished in 1604, it was improved over time—another level was dded to the on-storey towers in 1866. The American bombings in 1945 inflicted much damage to the church roof in 1945; after the war, the church was restored almost to its original condition.

The monastery of the church are linked to each other—and since the mid 1960s, the monastery has served as a museum, beginning with a photographic exhibit of Philippine churches. From 1968-69, plans for a permanent museum were drawn, even as Arch. Angel Nakpil was restoring the church and the monastery.

Three large halls on the ground floor and one on the second floor have been restored to showcase sacred art and other treasures—from bas reliefs, altar vessels, religious vestments to ivory and wooden santos, carrozas, retablos and paintings collected and preserved through the years.

On exhibit at the museum are parts of the “Pagrel Collection”, on loan from the family of Don Luis Ma. Araneta and inaugurated in 1976 in memory of Luis’ mother, Dña. Carmen Zaragoza Roxas vda. de Araneta. The collection features authentic antiques of validated provenance (Filipino-Mexican-Spanish colonial) acquired as early as 1940. A few choice pieces are shown on this page.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


The first religious image mentioned in Philippine history is the Sto. Niño de Cebu. Carved in Flanders (then a Spanish possession) and dressed in velvet cloak and plumed hat, a hand raised in benediction and the other carrying an orb, the image attracted Juana, Datu Humabon’s wife; Pigafetta therefore gave it to her. This example of early Filipino devotion to the Niño before long popularized carvings in his likeness. In 1590, Domingo de Salazar, the first Archbishop of Manila, wrote to King Philip II of ivory carvings of the Child Jesus being carved in Manila—so excellently as to approximate in quality the Flemish originals. These first examples were, of course, carved by Chinese artisans; and they gave rise to characteristic traits which became incorporated in later Philippine iconography. For instance, the fleshy, rotund thighs of the Sto. Niño; and the neck of most saints ringed with the folds; and eyes shaded by heavy lids. These characteristics seem more common in ivory images, but even wood carvings (particularly of the early period) exhibit these traits.

From the indio background, the most telling contribution to santo sculpture is the somewhat disproportional physiognomy and a tendency to flatness. For when the artisans conceives of his sculpture as a free-standing object in the round, he typically pays only minimal attention to its back profile. The reason for this, of course, is that Philippine ornamental carvings in their traditional usage—carved on the surfaces of objects—used a flat perspective. The frontal directness of objects was always the primary concern of the craftsman. One notices this even in the bulul—the only representation of our animist past which survived the fervor of the early missionaries. The older craftsmen often had no idea of using clothing to enhance the proportion of the body in the artistic sense. In later sculptures, the slight turn of a leg proffered forward sometimes resulted in a fuller carving of the lower garment; an arm lifted in supplication may have a ripple of creases on the sleeve.

It’s a pity—but perhaps unavoidable—that much of the estofado coating applied to the garments of saints has been lost. Our hot, humid climate causes it to flake off. Apart from natural causes, there was the ritual habit of repainting images every so often. The fact that beautiful estofado decoration would be covered seldom stopped the devotee from giving an old image a new coat of paint. It is the ritual intention that was important—not the aesthetic value. For these images were above all intimately bound to everyday life—gaining meaning and value as they relate to the owner n ritual terms. Estofado is the technique of decorating the garments of images. Gesso or its equivalent in thick putty-like plaster is used to prime the body of the statue. In the Spanish tradition, a coat of goldleaf was first applied to the body of the sculpture—followed by a thin coat of paint through which we can barely see the gold shimmer. Floral patterns were then incised on this coating, reinforced with traditional decorative elements painted on to emphasize the sgrafitto pattern. This ornamental technique must have been very attractive to the colonial artisan, for it was rather similar to that of his own accustomed carving technique. And largely because the Filipino artisan was able to impart something of his own character to the santos he carved, his religious imagery gained distinctive marks. Unlearned though he may have been in the manner of Europeans, he gamely produced his own lively interpretation of the heavenly hierarchy. God and His saints must have had many good laughs over their sometimes-impious representations in Filipino colonial iconography: bulging eyes, squat figures, sensuous lips—and expressions that had never before crossed the faces of Christian saints. Informal statues meant for homes display the wider variety of stylistic differences. For one thing, the craftsman had to deal with clients of varying tastes and standards. One imagines that the peninsulares would have wanted in their home altars nothing less than those images grandiosely enshrined in church altars, or seen in the latest books and prints brought over by the Acapulco galleons. Upwardly mobile principales and mestizos must have also vied with one another to secure the best carvers and the best type of wood for their own altar images.

But for the majority of Filipino converts, the so-called popular style—more crude, more primitive, more naively conceived—sufficed. Surprisingly, it is in santos of this category that the scholar can measure the faith of the early converts. For here, freed from the hierarchial demands, the folk fashioned their saints in their own image. It is here, too, that one finds many statues vaguely reminiscent of the likha and anito. Santos of the popular style often tell us too, even of the changing costumes of the colonial period. The patron of San Isidro normally portrayed as a Castillian genteman was gradually replaced by indios, mestizos, and chinos. San isidro Labrador—so close to peasant affection—is often carved as dressed in the loose camisa worn by farmers.

Generally, all images were first treated with gesso to fill in the grain of wood and to achieve a smooth finish. The sculpture was then primed with red or yellow paint, before being polychromed in the standard colors assigned to specific saints. The faces of images are often coated with several layers of paint that approximate the skin tone. This process is known as encarnado. Ultra-realism became the vogue in the 18th century. Glass eyes, wigs, jewels and false eyelashes were introduced into santo sculpture. Images were dressed in velvet and the finest materials possible. Head and hand were now usually attached to a sketchy frame, with sockets supported by wooden legs. In the bastidor type, head and hands mounted and the body frame heavily padded to produce a conical saint. In this style, legs were no longer carved nor detailed. Emphasis shifted to the ornamental appearance of the object: the sculptural form disappears altogether.

In the absence of written records, dating santos is at best an educated guess. It is much easier to arrive at generalities regarding provenance. For instance, santos from the Bicol region tend to be carved from heavy wood. The figures are always massive proportion, well-carved with bases being frequently adorned with angels (if the subject happens to be the Blessed Virgin) and brilliantly colored. Popular subjects for Bicol carvers are San Antonio de Padua and the Pieta. From Cebu came the bell-shaped, heavy images of the Virgin with ivory heads and pegged-on wigs. Iloilo sculpture tends to be on the flattish side, with angular shoulders. Most popular santos from this province are mounted on crudely-made bases.

Samar has a prevalence of santos carved in light to medium-hard wood, which are tall (like the Pangasinan images) but flat, with angular shoulders and head. One characteristic of the Samar San Roque is a wound located on the right rather than on the left thigh, as it should not be in orthodox iconography. Bohol Virgins are generally squat figures slightly hunched at the shoulder, with pinched waists. The hair is straight and shapeless, or else falls in separate strands at the back. The face has a rather piquant expression. Bases are octagonal in shape instead of the usual globe, which is standard in the representation of the Inmaculada. Negros Virgins are crowned with nondescript faces. Bold floral designs invariably liven the central panel of their garments.

Whatever data we have today are still not enough to afford us a keener knowledge of the styles generated at a particular time in a specific locality. Historical records are so scarce that it is next to impossible to formulate an authoritative overview. It will be, as I have mentioned earlier, at best an educated guess, and for want of information, riddled with gaps. Thus, I appeal to dealers and collectors to join hands in amassing information in a common archive—the ADAP—where all the items that pass through their hands are photographed, given a description with additional information regarding source and provenance, and, possibly, the name o the foreign buyer. Such information will contribute to the collection of knowledge that is essential to a deeper and cultured understanding of this art form, our most vital link to discovery of the Filipino psyche.


(A lecture delivered on Jan. 1982 at the Philippine Plaza Hotel. Originally published in The Manila Arts & Antiques Exhibition Program, Sept. 13-10, 1982)

By Esperanza B. Gatbonton
Santo photos courtesy of Tony Martino

First of all, I would like to thank the Antique Dealers’ Association for asking me to address this distinguished group of collectors and connoisseurs of Philippine artifacts. Second, I wish to commend the Association for its efforts to upgrade the Philippine antique trade. Simply by ensuring that all items put on sale are genuine, and (one hopes) also reasonably priced, you will be ding a great deal to develop buyer’s confidence and enlarge your national market.

The growth of the antique market in recent years has brought to light many rare and valuable pieces that testify to the wealth and variety of our cultural heritage. It is a pity that a great number of these artifacts—which should have remained here—have disappeared abroad by means of the antique trade.

Having said that, I wish to acknowledge that many dealers have tried—do try—to offer outstanding art objects they turn up to various institutions in the country that have to do with the preservation of national treasures.

The Intramuros Administration—where I work—has benefited a great deal from this thoughtfulness of some art dealers. Without your help, many more rare and beautiful pieces would have passed on to private or foreign collectors, depriving our public at large the chance of ever seeing them.

Perhaps, the Association can go a step further and set up a library of its own—which could compile pictures and other data of art objects sold to foreigners, or otherwise shipped abroad. This will at least preserve records of provenance and style—and help future scholarship on Philippine antiquities.

The study of our religious carvings or santos have suffered greatly from this lack of historical record. For instance, until recent times, people widely supposed that most of our ivory carvings had come from Mexico or Spain; and that those found here were all carved by Chinese craftsmen. It had taken the work of a scholar and researcher in Spain—working the span of over a decade—to call our attention to the significant number of ivory carvings in Spain, Mexico, and other European museums that are of Philippine provenance. Whether these were carved by Filipinos or Chinese is another story we have yet to verify.

The indio tradition and culture was oriented towards ornamentation. Like all other ‘primitive’ societies, the indio drew inspiration from his surroundings and found an effective means of reaching out to his largely unknown, somewhat formless universe by resorting to symbolical representation. He embellished most objects of daily life—transforming ordinary objects and usages into more than purely functional artifacts. Being an animist, his representations of his gods recalled the symbolical mysteries to which his mind was drawn.

These representations—whether carved on the surfaces of tools, woven into cloth, tattooed on the skin, or engraved on jewelry—created a strong tradition which formed the colonial sculptors’ artistic background. The representations of anitos or likha were crudely carved—crude in the sense that the sculptor made no attempt to delineate, but only to represent, the elemental form of things he could not see, yet intuitively recognized as real.

How does one explain why all people in their beginnings choose to represent objects in a manner that we can only call “crude”? The first Spanish settlers in the islands expressed great horror on seeing these idols—which they regarded as monstrosities and instruments of the devil. The early missionaries undoubtedly had a fine time seeking them out from the homes of their parishioners, and condemning them to the bonfire.

Much has been said about the syncretic character of Philippine Catholicism; but the fact remains that at least in the beginnings of Christianity in the archipelago, dislocated Filipino sensibilities groping for direction simply made the transfer from Bathala to Dios—from anito to santo. And once unsophisticated minds saw the parallelism between Catholicism and their own beliefs, they proceeded with characteristic fervor to Philippinize the new religion.

To be sure, the transition did not come about without some soul-wracking agonies. Nicely-worded edicts from Philip II assuaged some doubts; and we must not discount the dedication and genuine saintliness of many of the early missionaries.

As a result, practically all the lowlanders and inhabitants of the known riverways were quickly Christianized, and churches were built all over the archipelago. By 1586, the Augustinians alone had 27 missions scattered from the Ilocos to Cebu and Panay. By the 17th century, stone churches were being built, and elaborate retablos and altars carved to decorate them.

The Jesuit Antonio Sedeño, who had much to do with the first buildings in stone, was also responsible for the earliest religious paintings done toward the end of the sixteenth century. He sought migrant Chinese artisans already familiar with the brush and color, and taught them how to paint pictures of the Blessed Mother. These first icons Sedeño earnestly distributed to his friends for use in churches and homes.