Christian religious imagery in the Philippines consists of a wide variety of objects which includes those brought into the country in the mid-16th century and a large number of those locally produced, were made by the end of the 18th century. When Spain colonized the Philippines in the 16th century, missionaries, soldiers and sailors brought their Christian religious images with them, such as statues, paintings, picture books and prints meant for the spiritual well-being of the colonizers as well as for use in the conversion of people.
Strictly taken, the term santo, sometimes imagen, is a folk term meaning a Christian religious image that may be carved, molded or painted, made in the Philippines, produced between 1565 to 1898. Popularly, the word includes the very first images brought to the Philippines from Spain and other European countries, and some from South America. Locally, friars and Filipino and Chinese craftsmen made most of the images.
What gives Philippine religious imagery its unique identity is that, although based on Occidental models, the Oriental artisans produced images with a special blending of Spanish, Chinese and Filipino characteristics. Some pieces show some dominant traces of Chinese features, or Filipino pre-Hispanic (for instance, Ifugao) traits, giving rise to the possibility of at least identifying the nationality of the image-maker for a certain piece of work.
As this collection of artwork was originally meant for pious purposes, rather than aesthetic, no trace of the identification of the craftman was found on the work. Although, once in a while, some artifacts bear the name of the artist and these cannot be ascertained most of the time. Date and origin of the pieces, however, may be established with some success because they are either indicated in the works or the information can be traced, for example, to the year of the construction of the church in which an image is found. The kind of wood it is made of can lead to the province or part of the country of its origin. Further scientific research can reveal the year they were made. As a whole, the bulk of what exists today will have form part of anonymous Philippine art.
The whole collection of what began as religious works belongs to a unique form of art that shows not only artistic and technical skill, but more so, the enthusiasm and spirit with which the Christian Faith was accepted by the Filipinos.
Browse Selected Pieces from the Collection: