PEARL OF THE ORIENT: THE PHILIPPINES IN A SHELL
MANILA, JANUARY 28, 2008 (MALAYA) By Bambi Harper - Like the other Cariño/Ner collabo-ration, (2204) Album Islas Filipinas 1663-1888 and Cariño’s ( 2002) Jose Honorato Lozano 1847 the material forming the basis of the publication belongs primarily to Cariño who has spent much of his adult life collecting Filipiniana in Europe and Latin America amassing a collection that is truly a revelation.
While most Filipinos are aware hopefully of the names Amorsolo, Luna and Hidalgo many of their works in Cariño’s collection have only come to light recently. There are other items that are rarer and less well known such as the sculptures of Felix Pardo de Tavera, brother of Trinidad, who settled in Argentina or the paintings of Jose Taviel de Andrade, the lawyer of Dr. Jose Rizal.
Recently at the Metropolitan Museum a book launch of Cariño and Ner’s Pearl of the Orient: the Philippines in a Shell (2007) was held together with an exhibition of some 50 pieces of 19th century paintings done on Mother-of-Pearl (silver-lip pinctada or pinctada maxima), the majority of which belong to the author. It is certainly a worth-while effort to see the show – a bit of esoterica perhaps but which may even inspire a revival of the art form.
The authors postulate that these artworks were "most likely gift or souvenir items given to foreigners" which is one reason so many have been found in Spain and is also the reason why the scenes depicted are generally rural with the usual bahay kubo or else Filipinas in native costumes.
Aside from painting on them, the shells were also carved, an art that Filipinos might have learned from the Chinese immigrants. None of these are signed. Not much is known about some of the Filipino artists represented despite research done in libraries in Spain and the Philippines. But what should prove interesting are the names. Who knows what works of these artists still exist whether in shells or canvas forgotten in the provinces?
Little known painters like Baldomero Alonzo and Tomas Diores y Codilla, a Cebuano painter, whose dates of birth and death are not even known. An interesting feature of the Diores samples – bahay kubos set in pastoral scenes – is their resemblance in style to the Bohol ceiling paintings that were also done by two Cebuanos.
Personal vignettes are included by Cariño dealing with his tracking down and acquiring 5 documents (3 letters of Rizal to Capt. Alemany, of the ship Isla de Panay which was the ship that was to take Rizal to Cuba. The other was a letter of Pedro Roxas who jumped ship in Singapore. And the last is a receipt from a lieutenant Tudela acknowledging the turn-over of Rizal with a folder addressed to the governor of that province.
Interestingly enough Cariño had earlier dismissed two shell paintings and kept them under his bed for four years until Sonia Ner’s identified the signature as that of Rizal! Those with religious inclinations may appreciate more Juan Luna’s religious painting of the Immaculate Conception on shell since it is "the artist’s interpretation of Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s Immaculate Conception, done in miniature." It is signed by the artist with a dedication to his teacher, Don Alejo Vera.
There are other painters other than Filipinos featured in the book mostly Spaniards like Javier Gomez de la Serna, Perez Pascual and E. Perez de Castro, the latter having painted the earliest dated works in the collection (1888). Aside from the signed works there are unsigned ones featured depicting a wide variety of subject matter other than typical rural scenery such as Mayon Volcano, a waterfall; a young girl with her cat, a Chinese junk and a mermaid. These were mostly by amateurs given the brush strokes and the unskilled manner of handling the subject.
The engraved mother-of-pearl shells are all unsigned, the majority are of landscapes usually rural but most exhibit highly skilled craftsmanship indicating competence in carving. They may have been jewelers with access to the proper tools. Cariño/Ner surmise they were Chinese craftsmen since carving on shells was already a highly developed art in China during the 19th century.
Aside from being a handsome book and a collector’s item in itself (seeing as there are seldom repeats in printing around here) the work is great reference material for those interested in scouring antique shops and the countryside for rare Filipiniana.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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