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Colonial Philippines’ Carved Wooden Saint’s Head

18th century

height without stand: 21cm, height with stand: 25.7cm

Available - Enquire


UK art market

This very finely carved and painted head is of a saint, possibly Saint Agustin. The eyes are glass inserts, and the teeth, just visible through the gently parted mouth, are of bone.

The rendering of the image is particularly naturalistic and has the quality of an 18th century colonial work.

The image has high cheekbones, an aquiline nose, and a beautifully rendered and entwined beard. The tonsure of the hair suggests that this saint is a friar, and so is probably Saint Augustine (San Agustin) or one of the other friar saints popular in the Philippines.

Saint Augustine is the patron saint of the Order of Saint Augustine (the Augustinians), an important order in the Philippines.

The head has not been removed from a larger wooden statue but was carved as a separate piece to be added to a body that might have comprised a bamboo substrate over which the saint’s robes were hung. This type of construction is typically colonial Philippines, whereas in Spain itself, it was more typical to carve the entire saint, body, had, hands and feet all from wood.

There is a small hole to the top of the head where it was likely that a metal halo would have been inserted. The back of the neck has markings consistent with where the fabric for the robes would have been attached.

The head is now mounted on a quality, purpose-made wooden stand.

Overall, this is an excellent image.

See a related carved ivory head from 17th century Manila, in the British Museum.


Trota Jose, R., Images of Faith: Religious Ivory Carvings from the Philippines, Pacific Asia Museum, 1990.

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