This splendid pair of Philippine cabinets in the late Neoclassical style are made of beautifully burled “babaeng kamagong” hardwood and are decidedly of German Biedermeier inspiration. Both feature carved friezes of continuous, upright acanthus leaves. Below the friezes are inlays of lines and lozenges of “lanite” wood. The doors and sides of the cabinets are inlaid with stylized panels of “lanite” wood in the late Neoclassical style characteristic of Philippine case furniture from 1800 - 1850. All the inlays of “lanite” wood are painstakingly crafted. The cabinets stand on traditional urn-shaped feet. They come from the famous collection of the industrialist Romeo Jorge.
Upon purchase by Romeo Jorge from antique dealer Gerardo Esposo in 1992, the interesting wood of the cabinets was identified with certainty as “babaeng kamagong” hardwood by the legendary antique dealer and woodworker, “Manila’s romancer of wood” Osmundo Esguerra (coined by Ramon N. Villegas in 1990), known as “Omeng.”
These two remarkable, matching cabinets of “kamagong” hardwood were acquired separately by Romeo Jorge, not together as could be assumed. Intrepid antique dealer Gerardo Pagala Esposo (“Gerry”) found the first aparador in an old house in Santa Ana, Manila in 1992 and sold it to Jorge. (One must remember that Santa Ana, Manila during the Spanish period was a picturesque, riverside community with many rich residents — Spaniards, mestizos, and Filipinos alike.) Seven months later, Esposo found the matching second, smaller aparador in another old house, still in Santa Ana, owned by a relative of the seller of the first aparador.
It became apparent that the two “his and hers” cabinets had originally been owned by the 1830s progenitors of the sellers’ families.
These beautiful and exceedingly rare pair of “kamagong” cabinets were proudly installed in Romeo Jorge’s living room, alongside so many other 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.
The “materialistic” 1980s were punctuated by great, lavish exhibitions in leading hotels organized by the top art and antique dealers. The exclusive opening nights of such events found Manila’s richest of the rich jostling, sometimes arguing or even quarreling, for the choice art and antique finds of the evening. Maximalism was the fashion of the Marcosian 1980s, the richer you were, the more crowded with important and therefore expensive art and antiques your big house was. The opulent style was best exemplified by the Italianate house on Vito Cruz street, Manila house lived in by the irrepressible, Europe-educated collector Dr Eleuterio Pascual (known as “Teyet”). The razzle-dazzle interiors were a “Beaux-Arts” or “fin-de-siecle” jumble with swathes of Marchesa Luisa Casati eccentricity that impressed the Marcos political bigwigs and new and old Manila society.
-Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III