For Generations to Come
when two stalwarts of Philippine art and culture—Jaime Zóbel de Ayala and thenBSP Governor Jaime C Laya—found it and brought it home.
“[At the time,] I was interested in enriching the Central Bank collection,” Laya recalls. “Don Jaime alerted me to the Niño being scheduled for auction at Christie’s. I happened to be in London and so went to Christie’s to take a look.
“I was impressed and asked the PNB office in London to bid for it, setting a maximum bid of £170,000 [at today’s rates, around £540,463.12 or Php 37,228,360.22].”
It is now the centrepiece of the religious art collection and, due to its financial value, its priciest item. But the sweet-faced Niño is priceless to the nation, as it stands as a prime example of local craftsmanship.
The statuette itself is 3.5-cm long and wears a finely-woven piña tunic caught at the waist with a girdle wrought of gold and semi-precious stones. The silver filigree bed in which it lies is embedded with gemstones en cabochon and smaller enamel figures, including angels playing musical instruments and a cloisonné-work bird that seems to be the focus of the Holy Infant’s gaze. The unknown artist who crafted the statuette has masterfully captured the sleepy yet happy face of a content child, while the Chinese silversmith who crafted the bed has transformed it into an overload on the senses, so rich it is in minute, finely crafted details.
To the untrained eye, the tableau is a merry one of a bab y awakened from slumber by a brightly-coloured avian visitor. But the image is also one fraught with stark religious imagery: some of the items hanging from the canopy are implements of the crucifixion—nails, hammers, ladders, and pincers—and the inevitable fate of Christ. It is sad to note, however, that Villegas passed away earlier this year. But the book stands as his legacy to the nation, one that speaks of the richness of the past.
According to current BSP Governor Amando M Tetangco Jnr, “Likha will make you proud of our ancestors who created these works of art.” Indeed, the enduring legacy of art—from religious and devotional items, to personal adornments and clothing, to furniture that stand the test of time—is a testament to the innate artistry, ingenuity, adaptability, and resilience of the Filipino people.
For Tetangco and the curators of the BSP, as well as the authors who penned the essays which populate this unique tome, it is the rationale that drives the institution’s active involvement in preserving the country’s cultural treasures for posterity.