Ivory, Wood and Silver
with base: H:17” x L:9” x W:4 1/2” (43 cm x 23 cm x 11 cm)
without base: H:12” x L:5” x W:3 1/2” (30 cm x 13 cm x 9 cm)
Property of a distinguished Manila gentleman Purchased in Vigan, Ilocos Sur
A charming and highly sophisticated image of the Sto. Niño or Holy Child categorized as a Salvador del Mundo or Savior of the World. The earliest prototypes of these images came from Flanders (the Netherlands); and the earliest extant example of this type in the Philippines is that of the Sto. Niño of Cebu believed to have been brought to the islands by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
The figure of the child Jesus stands with his weight on his right leg and his right foot thrust slightly forward. The left leg is relaxed and the left foot thrust back for balance. The body leans to the right with exceptionally naturalistic pose. The image exhibits much movement as can be detected by the gesticulating hands, and the undulating feet with the right foot slightly elevated to suggest arrested motion.
The Salvador wears a Tabard giving the whole a slightly medieval air. A tabard is a sleeveless jerkin consisting only of front and back pieces with a hole for the head. The tabard is made of silver worked in repoussé of interlocking, rhomboid shapes. The round collar is particularly noteworthy as it is beautifully chased in foliate shapes. Underneath, the child wears unbleached cotton undergarments consisting of pantaloons and a shirt with long sleeves that covers his arms. The tabard is seamed and closed at the back. The Christ child is shod in boots.
The head is exceptionally well carved with the face beautifully rendered. The face is slightly elongated. The forehead is broad and the eyebrows are arched and painted brown almost the color of coffee. Inset glass eyes. The nose is long and straight. The lips are thin and slightly pursed with the edges tilting upward in a slight intimation of a smile. Dimples appear on his cheeks. The lips are outlined in an orange-red tinge typical of most ivory images made in the Philippines. Navarro de Pintado (1986, p. 107) describes the color as “crimson,” but a closer analysis reveals that Gatbonton’s assessment of the “orange-ish” hue is more on point (1983, p. 27).
The Christ child wears a wig of fiber hair. On top of his head, he wears an imperial crown (Corona Imperial) made of repoussé silver fire-gilded in gold in the technique which has come to be known as dorado de fuego (or dorado al fuego). The orb is similarly gilded.
Dorado de fuego or fire gilding is a time honored process by which an amalgam of gold is applied to metallic surfaces. The technique is highly dangerous and volatile because it involves the use of Mercury which, when melted, gives off toxic fumes. If absorbed (which is easily done by inhalation), the fumes can cause neurological and other bodily disorders and even death. The dorado de fuego technique have subsequently been supplanted by electroplating gold over nickel which is more economical and less dangerous.
The Salvador is mounted on an elaborate, rococo inspired base or peana. The base is original to the image which helps to date the piece to the 18th century. The Rococo is an artistic style that blossomed in the middle part of the 18th century as a reaction against the excessive regulation and symmetry of the baroque. The style derives its name from a combination of the French words rocaille (stone) and coquilles (shell). And the style manifested in curvilineal and asymmetrical shapes, light colors and a fondness for gold and gilding. The shape and form of this base, in fact, recalls the fanciful limestone grottos so popular during the period.
The image of the Sto. Niño or the Holy Child has been popular since the earliest days of the Spanish colonial period. This is evident in the writings of Manila’s first Archbishop, Domingo de Salazar, writing of Filipino craftsmen who “… are so skillful and clever that, as soon as they see any object made by a Spanish workman, they reproduce it with exactness.... they have produced marvelous work with both the brush and the chisel, and I think that nothing more perfect could be produced than some of their statues of the Child Jesus which I have seen.”
-Murvyn Rodriguez Callo