It is the prized heirloom of the Spanish hacendero Rodriguez–Infante family of Guagua town, Pampanga and their descendants. It was last in the custody of the Vicente Zaragoza Araneta – Paz Velez Zaragoza family of Manila’s R. Hidalgo Street. A commissioned piece meant for private devotion, this Roman Catholic icon “La Niña Dormida” of the sleeping infant Virgin Mary on an ivory bed can only be appropriately described as “beyond exquisite,” a fitting addition to the lineup of desirable lots in the upcoming The Kingly Treasures Auction of Leon Gallery slated to happen this December 3.
At first look, it follows the concept of the more prevalent “El Niño Dormido,” the sleeping Baby Jesus of solid ivory on a bed (usually of polychromed wood, the rarer ones in worked solid silver), a favorite devotion during the 1600s, 1700s, and even the 1800s. This time, however, it is the sleeping infant Virgin Mary honored as “La Niña Dormida,” and it is an unusual departure from the “Dormido” genre.
The tiny infant Virgin Mary, rendered in ivory by a Chinese–Filipino or Chinese carver, is elegantly dressed in a baptismal gown with a bonnet of exquisite embroidered piña textile. She rests in comfort on embroidered piña linens with a pillow and two bolster pillows. All the piña articles were most probably sewn with great Catholic devotion by an early Rodriguez–Infante matriarch, a cherished practice in those pious days.
The exquisitely carved miniature ivory bed features a raised sloping canopy of stunning, near unbelievable ivory screenwork wherein graceful floral, foliar, and scroll motifs are superimposed on fragile horizontal strands, the whole having been carved simultaneously with great expertise. A considerable finial with interlacing foliar forms surmounts the canopy, and even the canopy rails are carved with small details. The base of the canopy is adorned with crosshatched fringes and tassels (schrooms).
The canopy is supported by four testers carved with baluster, squash, and acanthus leaf motifs, as are the feet; the four testers are surmounted by finials in the shape of neoclassical reeded urns. The bed frame, meanwhile, is carved with floral details. There are four side guard panels which feature the same exquisite screenwork as the canopy. The base of the bed frame is also embellished with crosshatched fringes and tassels.
The piece is Lot no. 123 at The Kingly Treasures Auction, and has a starting price of Php 1.6 million. Architect Ramon Rosello Zaragoza rhapsodically describes the figure as combining filigree ivory carving “and the finest of Philippine weaves.” He adds that it is “possibly the work of a Chinese artisan from the Chinese Parian in Guagua, Pampanga, who took directions for the piece from a Spanish friar with a special devotion to the Blessed Mother.”
He continues: “The bed upon which the Baby Mary is fast asleep perfectly replicates a Spanish four poster canopy bed. The ivory craftsmanship is so fine that elements of the ivory canopy above her and in the sideboards that have so thoughtfully been installed to prevent her from rolling over the edge of the bed in her sleep, are as fine as human hair. Commissioned for installation in the family oratory it has been in the possession of the Velez–Zaragoza family for centuries.
“The ivory image of the Infant Mary is five inches long and is dressed in an outfit sewn from ‘nipis’ or pineapple fiber. The pillows all around her are similarly sheathed in ‘nipis’ fabric bordered with fine lace. Her bed stands twelve inches high, is eight inches long, and four inches wide. No wires or nails hold the piece together, only the perfection of perfectly executed interlocking parts.”
The La Niña Dormida is just one of the many offerings at the upcoming Leon Gallery The Kingly Treasures Auction. Co-presented by ANCX, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, the auction is happening on December 3 at 2PM, G/F Eurovilla I, V.A. Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City. For more information and to browse the rest of the auction lots, visit their website at https://leon-gallery.com/auctions/The-Kingly-Treasures-Auction-2022.
Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery