Back in the mid-1800s, after The Society of Arts and Trade opened in Manila, craftsmen and artisans flocked to Binondo, Sta. Cruz, Quiapo, and Tondo. The art scene flourished in the capital, with guilds and competitions espousing fantastic work from scholars and other young, would-be creatives.
One such medium that became popular at the time was the carving of religious imagery, which is not at all surprising given that Catholicism was and is so deeply injected into our culture. A santo was a status and economic symbol, a grandiose and artistic way of showing how devout you are, and that, well, you had the means to have something huge and intricate commissioned.
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And no one came close to the commercial success of one Maximo Vicente, who was considered a master sculptor of religious imagery. Born to fish vendor Antonia Vicente and a Spaniard named Guardamonte, the artist set up a shop called Talleres de Maximo Vicente at Calle R. Hidalgo in Quiapo, Manila in 1908, the same year the University of the Philippines was founded. The state university is his alma mater and he would graduate from the Fine Arts program a year later.
Vicente and wife Crispina Laxamana would later move the talleres to M. Adriatico Street in Ermita. When he first set up shop, he got his half-brothers to work with him as artisans and carvers. By the 1930s, Talleres de Maximo Vicente had become a rousing success, and they have expanded their repertoire to include altars, pulpits, church ornaments, gold embroidered vestments, marble monuments, and tomb markers. Most of the shop’s workers came from Pampanga, Navotas, or Malabon, where Vicente was born. It took anywhere from three to 12 months to complete a commissioned image.
Vicente and Laxamana had 11 children, and it was Maximo, Jr. and his wife Soledad Hernandez-Vicente who carried on his father’s legacy at the Talleres. Today, Vicente’s works still stand as centerpieces at several esteemed institutions: The Santo Niño de Praga of San Beda College in Mendiola and San Beda College Alabang; the statues of the main and side altars of our Lady of Mount Carmel on Broadway Avenue; the crucified Christ in Trece Martires, Virgen Milagrosa, San Vicente de Paul, Sta. Luisa in San Marcelino Church; Nuestra Senora de Candelaria in Iloilo, the statues found at the Assumption Convent in San Lorenzo Village; and the Alfonso de Liguori Church in Magallanes.
Finding new homes
After Maximo Jr. and Soledad passed away, the Talleres reins went to their daughter Regina Francisco, who decided to close the Ermita shop. It was partly because demand steadily dropped over the years and the carvers have passed away.
They still get inquiries for commissioned works, and cleaning and restoration services as the statues normally outlive their owners and get passed on. But there is a matter of what to do with the close to 100 santo that are housed in Francisco’s home. When her husband passed away and plans were made to move to a smaller house, the need to find new homes to the Vicente pieces.
Thankfully, Francisco was close friends with Rustan’s chairman and CEO Nedy Tantoco, who she went to school with at Assumption College. She offered that the extensive collection be sold at the iconic Makati department store.
With this, Rustan’s is holding a special exhibition of the collection of the renowned santero. From April 11 to 25, at the store's fifth floor, shoppers can view the 90 or so creations--which some say can rival even the best of Europe-- by one of the best the country has ever seen.
Below are some of the pieces that will be on display which are by the master artist himself, or from the carvers of Talleres:
Click on the arrows for slideshow
Holy Family with Clouds
Christ the King
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Madonna and Child
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady Queen of Peace
Relief work – Nativity
Sacred Heart - Arms Outstretched
Relief Work Madonna and Child
Sacred Heart with three Angels
Sacred Heart in Gold Leaf Garment
Sto. Nino de Araga
Sto. Nino with Dove
Sto. Nino de Cebu
For more details, follow @RustansPH on Facebook and Instagram, or visit Rustans.com.ph.