One of my most treasured santos in my collection is this antique Niño Dormido of solid ivory. I acquired this 7 inch image from a formidable collector of antiques in a most fortuitous way.
A gentleman collector had previously seen my modest collection of santos posted online and was pleased to know that we shared the same santo restorer. Next thing I knew, he extended an invitation to me to visit his home in a Manila suburb that was filled to the rafters with the most astounding collection of sacred art—from paintings, retablos, tabletop ivories to processional santos. I was just happy to make his acquaintance (he tunred out to be a kabalen!) and grateful for opening his ancestral home to me.
I was still gushing over this gentleman’s collection when I met up with my santo restorer friend. “”Oh,”, my friend said, “you might want to see his antique Niño Dormido that he is unloading. I have it with me!”.
It was love at first sight when I beheld the figure, wrapped up in an old silk handkerchief. It was not perfect—his nose and a hand had broken off, both feet were chipped, and the wooden pate on his back was missing. Still, it was an impressive figure, old and hefty, with an impeccable provenance.
Antique Niño Dormidos rarely come up in the market, for they are prized devotional pieces by owners. I knew then, I just had to have this sleeping Niño. But when told of the price tag, my heart sank—it was affordable by today’s standards, but still I didn’t have that much amount of money. “Not to worry,”said my friend, “ all we have to do is call the collector! And I’ll tell him who the interested buyer is!”.
To make the long story short, I made an embarrassingly low offer, which, to my surprise, was accepted! It was a kind gesture on the part of the collector, whom I had only previously met once!
Once I took the Niño home, it spent months in a shoebox because I really had no idea how to display it. Ideally, this should be in a virina (glass dome), on a velvet bed of some sorts—I have seen examples online. But the costs of antique virinas are so prohibitive—this, before the day of Made in China glass domes.
It was then that I remembered I had a small glass dome bought in Thailand, which once held a Buddha figure. It was not antique, and the glass itself was thick and full of bubbles—not the clear, thin glass of Czechoslovakian-made antique virinas. But I thought with a bit of creativity, I can make do with this glass dome.
The first thing I did was to have a new traditional base made, to replace the original base that had tacky floral carvings in front. Designing the brass bed or crib where the Niño would lay proved to be the greatest challenge.
I have seen bridal glass domes with spectacular brass canopies decorated with metal flowers, birds and leaves—and I wanted something like that. In the end, I customized my own design, which I took to my nearest ‘pukpok’ metalsmith in Mexico. I had to explain everything to my metalsmith painstakingly, providing him with visual pegs for small details such as the brass bird, the shapes of leaves and flowers. I also asked him to incorporate an antique brass halo which I earlier found, as a centerpiece accent. It took awhile for him to finish the crib, as it needed to be gold-plated too.
Miniature brass candlesticks sent by a friend from U.K. doubled as flower holders, and a flock of plaster sheep—remnants from an antique crèche were the finishing touches for my Niño Dormido virina project.
Thus, the Christ Child reposes, no longer hidden in a shoebox, but on a velvet, canopied brass crib for his Head, housed in a special glass dome fit for a newborn King.