|Spanish Colonial Philippines; 18th century|
This tall and imposing carved ivory image of Saint Francis of Assisi is typically colonial Philippines in its styling. The image is tall and slender and its slant follows the natural curve of the tusk from which it was made, giving the image a 'flowing' quality. The head and the hands have been carved separately. The styling of the hair and beard is extremely well observed, and the face is very fine alluding to a fine bone structure beneath and with its aquiline nose and look of resignation (this passivity is a common feature of ivory figures carved in the Philippines). The eyes have remnants of glass. This is very much in keeping with Philippines' religious ivories - almost alone amongst colonial religious ivories of the time, the eyes were in-filled with tiny glass eyeballs.
The image stands on a round platform carved right the way round with stylised scallop motifs amid rococo-esque swirls. His toes poke from beneath his robes, and like his fingers, they are carefully carved with nails. A rope is tied around the Saint's waist which falls almost to the ground.
The stigmata on the Saint's hands are clear but not overdone. The Saint's tonsured head has a small hole drilled at its centre which would have permitted a small silver halo to have been inserted. As with almost all such extant ivories, this no longer is present.
|The rendering of the thick rope around the Saint's waist is very similar to that for another image of the Saint in Sierra de la Calle (2004, p. 148). And a head of a saint illustrated in Trota Jose (1990, p. 131) which is attributed to the eighteenth century is very similar to the head on this image.|
Ivory religious carvings were exported from the Spanish colonial port of Manila to Europe and South America. Many of the carvers, at least initially, were local Chinese. The fact that they turn up in Mexico, Goa and Europe tends to lead to confusion as to their real origins and many Philippines ivory carvings are wrongly attributed to Goa.
Overall, this splendid ivory has a superb honeyed patina. It is in very fine condition, and has tremendous presence.
References: Gatbonton, E.B., 'An introduction to Philippine carvings in ivory', Arts of Asia, July-August 1993.
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