Title: Head of the Virgin
Place: Philippines
Date: Seventeenth century
Medium & technique: Ivory, metal, paste, silk, metal lace.
Dimensions: 271 × 120 × 120 mm (overall)
Themes: Bodies – Inside & Outside / Global – Local
Collection: National Gallery of Victoria, Bequest of Howard Spensley, 4121.a-c-D3. This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Gordon Darling Foundation.

This ivory sculpture depicting the head of the Virgin is of a type associated with exports from Manila in the Spanish Philippines between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Such objects were made of imported ivory, often by Chinese craftsmen. They were exported in great numbers, via the Manila Galleon trade, to the Spanish Vice-regal territories in the Americas and from there to Europe, sometimes losing their identity along the way: until very recently, this Asian sculpture was considered a Spanish production. Read more about this object.

Matthew Martin, University of Melbourne

Further Reading:

Alan Chong, ‘Christian Ivories by Chinese Artists: Macau, The Philippines, and Elsewhere, Late 16th and 17th centuries’, in Christianity in Asia. Sacred Art and Visual Splendour, ed. by Alan Chong (Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, 2016), 204-207.

Regaldo Trota Jose, Images of Faith: Religious Carvings from the Philippines (Pasadena: Pacific Asia Museum, 1990).