Ayala Museum: A Santa Claus Wish List

Published December 20, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

The inaugural exhibit (“Intertwined”) of the splendidly renovated Ayala Museum is notable for its magnificent gathering of ivory images, the first time ever that so many such fantastic objects have been in a Manila exhibit.

Ivory from Africa and Asia (India and Indo-China) were brought to Manila in the 17th and 18th centuries and carved probably by Chinese sculptors in the Parian district just outside Intramuros. They were primarily made for export to the Americas and Europe but some remained in the Philippines, survived the British, American, and Japanese occupations, and were later sold to foreign buyers. In the exhibit are outstanding examples from local collections, notably of Paulino and Hetty Que, and from museums abroad, heretofore little known to Filipinos.

RARE OBJECTS San Miguel Arcangel on loan from the Walters Art Gallery, Maryland.

San Miguel Arcángel, an exquisite ivory image lent by the Walters Art Gallery of Baltimore, Maryland. This is just one of the many ivory pieces in the exhibit, including an impressive crucified Christ from a private collection. Many spectacular ivory pieces remain in Latin American and European churches and museums, e.g., the Museo del Virreinato in Mexico, the Seville Cathedral, and Notre Dame de Paris. Other items are expected to arrive after the holidays from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and other foreign collections.

The 1734 Murillo-Velarde Map, with vignettes. This is one of four copies in the Philippines of the “Holy Grail” of Philippine maps, the culmination of some 150 years of exploration and cartography. It has eight vignettes of Philippine life and four miniature maps, of Manila, Cavite, Zamboanga, and Guam.

Niño Dormido. There are two stunning images of the sleeping infant Jesus on silver beds. One, in a silver filigree bed with enamel highlights, was part of the British war booty in the 1762 capture of Manila. It was brought back to Britain along with shiploads of valuables from convents, government offices, and private homes. The Central Bank of the Philippines won it in a 1982 London auction. The other, probably of the late 18th or early 19th century, is an equally stunning piece with a miniature bed of scintillating silver sheets.

Andas. Until today, religious processions mark Holy Week, town fiestas, and saintly feast days in Catholic Philippines. The images that participate in the processions are borne on andas carried on the shoulders of possibly several dozen men or pulled on parade floats. The example exhibited is entirely of silver and demonstrates the wealth, luxury, ostentatious piety, and metal working artistry and skill of the Spanish Regime.

Justiniano Asuncion “Tipos del Pais.” An array of watercolors depict “country types,” residents of Manila and nearby provinces of the 1850s. The elite are depicted in their Sunday best, while common people are shown in their working clothes.

“Karl Karuth Album.” Complementing peoples’ images are 1850s views of Manila and unexpectedly, of Jose Rizal’s hometown, Calamba, Laguna. These are possibly early works of Jose Honorato Lozano, compiled in the rarely seen album of the Ayala Corporation. An electronic viewer goes through the album page by page, though rather too rapidly for full appreciation.

Letras y figuras by Jose Honorato Lozano. European illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages may have inspired the uniquely Filipino art form depicting people and objects in the manner of letters that spelled out a name. It was a perfect souvenir of the Manila sojourn of a Yankee or a Brit assigned to a Manila trading house, or perhaps a Spaniard headed for home after a Philippine assignment. They give us a glimpse of our ancestors’ daily lives—about six or seven generations ago! Lozano shows cloth and milk vendors, cockfighting, students on the way school, ladies on the way to church, funerals, pilgrims on the way to Antipolo, etc.

  • Two were lent by the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts to which the very persons named had given their Manila mementos, Charles D. Mugford and William P. Peirce. A third of these extremely rare works is an interesting composite with Philippine fruits and the name Charles A. Westley.
  • The Jose Honorato Lozano oil spelling out Balvino Mauricio, an ancestor of the Roces family. The painting is the only known Lozano work in oil on canvas. The work spells out Don Balvino’s name against the background of his Binondo mansion said to be the house of Capitan Tiago and Maria Clara as described by Rizal in chapter one of Noli me Tangere. It shows the escalera leading up from the zaguan and patio, and second floor reception rooms enriched with large mirrors, heavy red curtains, carpets, and symmetrically arranged furniture. The home was located on Anloague Street, the portion of the present Juan Luna Street between Plaza Cervantes and Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz.

Mid-19th Century Portraits. The well-known Justiniano Asuncion portrait of Filomena Asuncion and Antonio Malantíc’s portraits of the sisters Soledad and Inocencia Francia are exhibit highlights. Malantíc was a noted mid-19th century painter and his few known works are portraits, the best known of which are the exhibited pair, the Francia sisters of Pagsanján, Laguna. Soledád is an ancestor of the prominent Benitez family. The Portrait of Inocencia was exhibited at the National Museum some 40 years ago but this is the first time that Soledád’s is on public view.

RARE OBJECTS Portrait of Soledad Francia by Antonio Malantic

Still Life paintings by Paz Paterno, ca. 1884. The artist was one of our first female painters, the sister of Pedro Paterno, negotiator of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, and of Dolores Paterno, pianist and composer of the celebrated song, “Sampaguita.” She had only a handful of known works, including four still life paintings, two of which were lent by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Jewelry (18th and 19th centuries).  A case secures Spanish regime jewelry—exquisite alfajór (necklaces of flat beads) and tamborín (necklaces of gold beads, originally rosaries with a pendant containing a saintly relic). Notice the ultra-rare tinik pieces with thorn-like detailing. Scapulars were also made of gold and were both religious and display items. Pins, combs, earrings, and even utilitarian items like slippers were of gold and silver. Diamonds and colored stones were not commonly used, artistry being expressed in wrought precious metal and pearls. Men also wore scapulars and spectacular headgear, salakót made of tortoise shell or finely woven rattan strips appliqued with silver and sometimes gold.

Piña Embroidery (Nipís). A pair of embroidered piña alampáy (fichu or neckpiece) lent by the Intramuros Administration may have been part of a set woven in Laguna on order of Alcalde Mayor Francisco Yriarte and intended as a gift to Spanish Queen Maria Cristina. They are in the sombrado technique with stitches so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye. These were treasured in Europe where they were known as nipís.

Palillera (a.k.a. palitera). These were dining table ornaments that held decorated toothpicks for picking up canapes. The toothpicks were often of wood with decoratively carved ends. One in the exhibit has toothpicks with ivory flowers. They were most often like miniature pineapples but an exquisite object shown depicts a life-size kulasisì (a small parrot) perched on a branch.

Omicron may keep Santa Claus in quarantine but there’s no harm in wishing.

Note:  The Earls of Lichfield inherited the estate of Admiral George Anson, head of the British occupation of Manila and Cavite from 1762 to 1764. Some of the objects he brought bank to England are still in Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, including the sword of the Commander of Nstra. Sra. De Covadonga and the galleon that Anson captured in Samar. The Niño Dormido of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reportedly was among the objects auctioned from another stately home, Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, England. 

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected].