Hispano-Philippine School

17th Century

“Saint Ignacio de Loyola”
Polychrome carved wood
78 x 27 x 27 cm.

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The Philippine Islands were discovered in 1521 by the expedition of Magellan. In the following years many expeditions were undertaken and organized both by Spain and Mexico: the ones of Loaísa (1525), Saavedra (1527) and Villalobos (1541).  In 1564, the expedition of Miguel López de Legazpi, who arrived in the Philippines in 1565, completed the discovery of territories and annexing them to the Crown of Castile. In 1571, Legazpi conquered Manila and, after being appointed Governor, he settled there the capital gaining the Government the following year. Years later, he accomplished the conquest of the north of the Luzon island, reaching the regions of Ilocos and Cagayán.

The missionaries also arrived together with the discoverers. In all the expeditions, even in the first one of Magellan, there were always some ecclesiastical officers, priests or religious officials, whose mission was not only to attend to the spiritual needs of the crew, but also with the purpose of announcing the Gospel to the natives.

The evangelization of the Philippines began properly upon the arrival of the Augustinians to the Islands with the expedition of Legazpi in 1565. In the years thereafter, new groups of Augustinians arrived; in 1578 the Franciscans took over. In 1581, the first Jesuits Order members arrived to the Islands acquiring more and more importance in their evangelizing role.

To the Society of Jesus belongs the Saint represented in this beautiful sculpture.

At the end of the 16th century, the Jesuit priest Alonso Sánchez was appointed as the representative for the Philippines, and the father Pedro Chirino from the same Order (an important chronicler whose writings have been considered as a reliable source of information) travelled to Rome to initiate the first Jesuit missions. Simultaneously, the small Jesuits community moved to Manila inland, so its social significance increased, allowing its further development.

In 1595 there was a turning point due to two meaningful events: firstly, the mission became a Vice-province, achieving thus a status that guaranteed its continuity; secondly, the Philippines were divided by the authorities into exclusive evangelization zones assigned to each religious order present at that time: Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans. Such division delimited the territories in which the Jesuits had to focus their activities thereafter, strengthening its missionary policy accordingly.

The Jesuit missionary apogee in the Philippines remained until 1767, when by Royal Decree, Charles III expelled the Order from the Islands and its main officials were exiled to Italian lands.

At the technical level, the extraordinary sculpture exhibited here is remarkable due to its great liveliness: the inclination of the torso fostered by the contrapposto of the figure, allows the artist to recreate the movement of the vestments’ folds.

The naturalism of the posture and the proportions, as well as the fine estofado with gold leaf, far from the naive characteristics of colonial hands, suggest that the author was trained first hand by a Spanish Master in religious imagery, or that had direct access to carvings coming from the metropolis. Specifically in the composition and the morphology of the head we can find certain influence from the sculpture of San Ignacio de Loyola, made by Martínez Montañés with polychromy by Francisco Pacheco (1610), which is kept today at the Church of the Annunciation of Seville.

As experts like Margarita Estella state, montañesinos models such as the standing Child Jesus (with the classic bow or moña) or the Immaculate (with the crescent moon and the cherubs below) were widely used in Philippines for ivory figures throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

Undoubtedly, one of the most anecdotal aspects of this piece, which is a clear reference to its Asian origin, are the Saint’s almond shaped eyes. A feature that can be often observed in the Hispano – Philippine sculptures, whose artists used to be the Sangleys, the name given to the Chinese settlers of the Islands.



DESCALZO YUSTE, Eduardo. The Society of Jesus in the Philippines (1581 – 1768) reality and representation. Doctoral Thesis. Universidad Autónoma, Barcelona (2015).