Provenance: Romeo Jorge; An old family of Baliuag, Bulacan
This spectacular and elegant pair of early, carabao bone-inlaid cabinets is from Baliuag, Bulacan, a town in the Central Plains of Luzon island where an industry producing elegant seat and case furniture, usually of golden “narra” wood (stained dark), in appropriately simplified European neoclassical styles (Louis XVI, Directoire, Consulat, French Empire, English Regency, German Biedermeier) inlaid with carabao bone, kamagong wood, and lanite wood flourished from around 1800 to the pre-war.
This pair was produced before 1850 and that accounts for its general style, generous proportions, and the eccentric but flamboyant style of the bone and wood inlay which vary considerably from the more visible production of the 2nd half of the 19th century (1850-1900). The 2 doors of each cabinet are inlaid with kamagong and lanite wood in that characteristic early 19th century, late neoclassical panel design. In the center of each door is a stylized flower and on the 4 corners inside the panel are fleur-de-lys pointing to the center. The top panel has its sides inlaid with kamagong wood and decorated with large, incised lozenges of carabao bone (known as “matang pusa” / “eyes of the cat”). The 2 doors are flanked by elegant reeded posts on plinths in kamagong wood. The 2 visible sides of the plinths are inlaid with naturalistic bouquets rendered in bone inlay cut to shape. The base of the cabinet, like the top panel, is inlaid with kamagong wood and decorated with large, incised lozenges of carabao bone (“matang pusa”). Very interesting and highly unusual is the apron of kamagong wood with its graceful, unfurling design of a small urn spilling sinuous stems with flowers and leaves also cut to shape. The whole cabinet is supported by turned, urn-shaped feet of kamagong wood.
It must be said that these cabinets, while certainly produced and found in Baliuag, Bulacan, exhibit some salient features of the distinct furniture tradition of Penaranda town, Nueva Ecija as documented by the late Filipiniana scholar Martin Imperial Tinio Jr (known as “Sonny”) in a 1979 monograph — They have carabao bone inlay specially cut to the shapes of flowers and leaves. Tinio described a more elaborate carabao bone inlay tradition in Penaranda town wherein the bone was actually cut to the shapes of flowers, leaves, and other naturalistic forms superimposed on dark reddish brown “tindalo” / “balayong” wood, creating more elaborate decoration compared to the Baliuag tradition that utilized simple, geometric forms (lines, diamonds, triangles, lozenges, cubes, rectangles, rhomboids, etc) to form floral and foliar patterns from nature superimposed on golden “narra” wood stained dark.)
The only pieces of the Penaranda, Nueva Ecija tradition in collections visible to the public, indeed the only ones known to scholars and collectors alike, are 2 exceptionally beautiful “mesa altar”/altar tables of “tindalo” / “balayong” wood, actually a pair, from the Maria Tinio Romero-Buencamino estate (known to her family circle as “Mariang Bulutong,” a diminutive for her permanent facial spots; wife of Felipe Buencamino y Abreu II, the elder of 2 sons (the younger one was Victor) of Felipe Buencamino y Siojo of San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan and his second wife Guadalupe Abreu y Salazar of Calle Sagunto, Tondo, Manila). One is at the “entresuelo” (mezzanine) of the Casa Manila museum in Intramuros, Manila while the other one is at the “caida” (entrance hall) of the Museo De La Salle at the De La Salle University in Dasmarinas, Cavite (from the former D M Guevara Collection). Tinio remembered the Maria Tinio Romero-Buencamino ensemble well from the postwar years, and recalled that the pair of sideboards were accompanied by a long, sectional dining table, dining chairs, a pair of armoires, and most memorably to Tinio, a smallish early “aparador” in dark reddish-brown “tindalo” / “balayong” wood with the most intricate and exquisite carabao bone inlay he had ever seen. The present whereabouts of the rest of the Tinio Romero-Buencamino ensemble — dining table, dining chairs, a pair of armoires, and the memorable smallish “aparador” — are unknown. This exceptional pair of cabinets was found by intrepid antique dealer Gerardo Pagala Esposo (known as “Gerry”) in 1994 with the descendants of the original owners, still in an 1830s bahay-na-bato in the outer limits of Baliuag town, Bulacan. They were immediately purchased at first sight by Romeo Jorge.
These elegant and rare pair of carabao bone-inlaid cabinets in the Baliuag style were proudly installed in Romeo Jorge’s living room, alongside so many Filipiniana treasures.
Romeo Jorge is an industrialist with a fortune based in agribusiness. He started purchasing antique Filipino furniture in 1982 and became a serious collector of antique Filipino paintings, religious sculpture in wood and ivory, furniture, and household items in 1986. He was supplied by the best antique dealers of the time — Romeo Bauzon, Terry Baylosis, Antonio Martino, Jean-Louis Levi and Willie Versoza, Viring de Asis, Osmundo Esguerra, Ramon N Villegas, Maria Cristina Ongpin-Roxas, Gerardo Esposo, Liza Ramos Rama-Esposo, Roberto Antonio, et al. Jorge generously funded expeditions by antique dealers to the farthest corners of the country in search of the best antiques. Through his wife Nini Santos-Jorge, a professor of music at the University of the Philippines, he became a munificent patron of the famous Philippine Madrigal Singers of Dr Andrea Veneracion, hosting fundraising receptions at his elegant La Vista residence and bankrolling their trips to contests abroad.
The late 1970s to the 1980s were heady, dazzling times for Filipino arts and antiques. A well-funded and very active government office tasked to restore Intramuros (“Ciudad Murada” / The Walled City) as well as three affluent individuals were busy building their collections — The Intramuros Administration represented by the Central Bank Governor Jaime C Laya, Esperanza Bunag-Gatbonton, and Martin Imperial Tinio Jr, prominent Chinese-Filipino businessman Paulino Que, leading sugar executive Antonio Gutierrez, and the industrialist Romeo Jorge. (Also an active collector was the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos and her close circle of “Blue Ladies.”) Among friendly rivals Que, Gutierrez, and Jorge, it became the custom to give elegant dinner parties for their tight circle of serious art and antique collectors upon the arrivals of important acquisitions. Those exclusive, intimate dinners of the Que, Gutierrez, and Jorge circle were some of the most coveted invitations of those years.
-Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III