Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Bautista collection a must-see—from pre-colonial gold, religious art to anting-anting, maps

The first of Salcedo Auctions' Private Art, Public Lives exhibition series takes viewers to an expanse of PH art rarely seen

An 18th-19th century gold scapular made to be part of a priest’s high Mass regalia. Used in a church in Iloilo, the scapular presents the Lamb of God design on one side and the Corpus Christi on the other.

Salcedo Auctions, through its gallery and exhibition arm Salcedo Private View,  debuts a program that takes  you inside the private art collection of one of the region’s top bankers Edwin Riego Bautista, and his wife, professor Aileen Beltrano Bautista.

Salcedo Auctions’ chairman and chief specialist Richie Lerma added something exciting to the auction house’s program—a series of exhibitions of private collections titled Private Art, Public Lives. It debuts with a selection from the extensive collections of UnionBank president and chief executive officer Edwin Riego Bautista and his academician wife, Aileen Beltrano Bautista, who have collected through the decades an awesome range of objects of antiquity, most of which have not been shown in public.

Curator Floy Quintos titled the exhibition A Passion for Connections and Their Narratives, with thematic sections.  Islands, Partners and Colonizers “examines trade partnerships  with various Southeast Asian polities, as well as the gradual identification of our island kingdoms as one colony of Spain,” Quintos states in the exhibition notes. Visualizing the Faith includes santos in wood, ivory and silver, with a sub-section, A Faith Proclaimed Through Splendor, to showcase colonial jewelry and adornment from Aileen Beltrano Bautista’s own collection. A Secret Spirituality is devoted to “anting-antings  as a language of resistance.” Its sub-section, Re-Imagining the Divine features mamarrachos, or folk santos—unique in their unorthodox portrayals of holy personages, carved by local artisans.

The last section, Building, Defending Nations, is a poignant visioning of our journey to nationhood, narrated through battle-captured Philippine flags as well as indigenous and Katipunan-related armament.

A Katipunan sword with the inscription on the blade: Kawit, 30 August 1896 – the day the province of cavite officially joined the 1896 Philippine Revolution.

“We are delighted to announce the new program as well as its inaugural edition,” Lerma states. “This exhibition is a realization of a dream to support the educative work of our museums—a sector that I worked in for over a decade and where, in fact, I got the inspiration for Private Art, Public Lives. Building on the trust that we enjoy as well as the collective expertise of Salcedo’s specialists, we felt that it was our duty to begin sharing—indeed, opening up—important collections that have remained in private hands all these years. To me, Edwin and Aileen epitomize the ethos of Salcedo—that a well-appointed life means having a life that gives back to society. The  transformative work of the couple in their professional careers have truly made a mark in the lives of so many. And so it gives me great pleasure to have Salcedo work with them to have their finer, more private pursuits contributing in their own way to the country’s cultural landscape by providing the unparalleled access that this exhibition will provide the public.”

Lerma adds, “With insights from curator Floy Quintos, the show also invites a deeper understanding, and a more critical assessment of depictions of our history. For example, it is a common notion that we got the intricate craft of filigree from the Spanish, but in reality our artisans were already practitioners of this fascinatingly fastidious form of embellishment before they arrived, as you can see from some of the excavated gold jewelry. These are insights that Filpinos can truly be proud of, achievements outside of the ‘international recognition’ tropes that have been sadly misused and distorted  by the Barnum and Bailey characters in our midst, and this is just the beginning of a series of truly substantive exhibitions—hallmarks of what we continue to present at Salcedo.”

Private Art, Public Lives : A Passion for Connections and Their Narratives from the Collections of Edwin and Aileen Bautista will have a four-day run:  invitational viewings on August 31 and September 1-2,  and open to the public, on September 3,  9 a.m.-6 p.m. at Salcedo Auctions, NEX Tower, 6786 Ayala Avenue, Makati City. Follow @salcedoauctions on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

The narrative that connects them all, however, the realization that Edwin gradually became aware of, is the story of nationhood

He did not realize it in the beginning, but Edwin Riego Bautista has had the subconscious desire to build a collection that tells a story.

There’s a lot of stories that can be gleaned from the excavated pre-colonial and Spanish era gold jewelry, the rare and historically significant maps, the Philippine revolutionary flags, the exquisite indigenous weapons, as well as the ecclesiastical and folk religious objects in their collection. The narrative that connects them all, however, the realization that Edwin gradually became aware of, is the story of nationhood–one told by the voices of the unheard through the objects that they left behind.

“The narrative of an evolving nationhood,” curator Floy Quintos describes the deeper meanings and dimensions of the collection. Edwin and Aileen unconsciously gathered objects that, put together, “converse” with one another and voice a story in our history that has been largely ignored until just recently. He translates this conversation into four sections in the exhibit.

Islands, Partners and Colonizers examines the Philippines pre-colonial life–the early Filipinos’ connections within and outside their communities that extend beyond the seas–to the islands’ gradual identification as one colony of Spain.

One of the Bautistas’ most prized possessions in their collection is the first printed map to mention Filipinas as well as one of the earliest European maps of Southeast Asia. In these maps the Philippines was first shaped in relation to the world yet under the foreign gaze. Therefore, it is just as important to Edwin to have his hands on the smaller 1748 version of the Murillo Velarde map, the first map made in the Philippines and also the first scientifically accurate one.

A smaller 1774 version of the Murillo-Velarde Map–the first map made in the Philippines. This was additionally commissioned by the governor-general Fernando Valdes y Tamon to accompany his report to Spain.

Maps chronicle the birth of a nation, but like any documented history, can only record so much. Life in the Philippines before the Spanish arrival is better narrated by the thousands of excavated materials from burials sites, shipwrecks, and archaeologically significant areas. Here lies Aileen’s penchant for pre-colonial gold, beads, and precious stones. Her eye for beauty was caught by the technical flourish that defined these archaeological materials, such as techniques in filigree, granulation, and repoussé. Many in the collection are shaped like a Garuda of Hindu and Buddhist origins–a compelling proof of the cultural interactions of our pre-colonial ancestors.

An excavated Garuda pendant.
The Garuda is a bird-like creature found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

Visualizing the Faith showcases Spanish colonial art that predominantly functioned as religious objects. Edwin particularly collected ecclesiastical symbols and saints in wood, ivory, and silver. Spanish religious art in the Philippines did not shy away from grand expressions of the faithful, such as the ornate retablos in the collection. A subsection, titled A Faith Proclaimed Through Splendor, displays various colonial jewelry and adornments that continue to carry the goldsmithing and jewelry making techniques that survived–even transcended–colonization, finding its way to the tamborins, scapulars, and relicarios among others.

While Filipino artists were expected to master the visual arts according to Western standards, Filipino influences can still be seen in the likeness of their works. Mamarracho was the derogatory term the Spaniards used for locally made religious images that they found poorly made and ridiculous, and it is these folk sculptures that caught Edwin’s fascination. The subsection titled Re-Imagining the Divine puts the spotlight on these folk santos created beyond the canon.

An 18th century Rococo tabernacle from a church in Ilocos, with de tallado ivory images

A 20th century wooden relief of the Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados de Bacacay of Albay. Note the Mayon Volcano incorporated in the image.

A vest with a central image in the likeness of the Virgin Mary but is actually called the Infinita Dios, the female counterpart of the Infinito Dios or the folk God.

Edwin’s keen interest in folk spirituality extends to collecting anting-anting or talismanic amulets used by Filipinos during the peasant uprisings in the early 20th century. A Secret Spirituality is a section devoted to this language of resistance. The pieces in his collection are tangible narrators of how the Filipinos reconciled the world around them, incorporating all of their spiritual influences into something that they believed could alleviate their suffering from oppression. A medallion has the image of Jose Rizal, venerated and believed by some locals in Quezon as the second coming of Jesus Christ. A Philippine flag is stenciled with sacred symbols and incantations, indicative of the overlapping lines between faith and nationalism.

Talismanic properties incorporated in the Philippine flag (left) and attributed to Jose Rizal (right)

The final section, Building, Defending Nations, includes flags, weapons, and memorabilia from the Philippine Revolution and Philippine-American War. Many of these items he acquired abroad and were brought back to the Philippines for the very first time: early iterations of the Philippine flag, including the flags of Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, and Gregorio del Pilar; as well as a dagger used by the Katipuneros in their ritual of drawing blood as ink to sign the membership papers. A subsection, The Roots of Bangsa Moro, features Moro flags and weapons captured from the 1906 Battle of Bud Dajo. These are war trophies taken by the victors, who inadvertently became keepers and conservers of valuable heritage.

A Moro dagger with Quranic inscription in Jawi script: “There is only one God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The more you see, the more you seek. And the more you seek, the more you understand the holes there are in the collection.” Edwin explains the gradual conscious awakening arising from the stories as he collects through time. “It’s only after you’ve seen enough that you see that there are gaps or holes. You’ll wonder how it got there. You search… then you see pieces that fit. Ito pala yung progression, so nabubuo mo yung story.

A 17th-18th century alfajor necklace from Ilocos Norte

Talismanic flag associated with the Watawat ng Lahi cult in Banahaw

An early Philippine flag captured in Manila by an American officer from the First Montana Infantry, inscribed with a historical milestone: February 4, 1899 was the second day of the first battle of the Philippine-American War, now known as the Battle of Manila.

A 1900s Moro flag patterned after the American flag. The five stars represent the five key areas of the Sulu Sultanate: Sulu, Basilan, Palawan, Sabah, and Kalimantan.

Die Länder Tasie nach ihrer gelegenheit… One of the earliest European maps of Southeast Asia, where the Philippines was called Archepelagus 7448 Insularum. While the map was published in 1544, it was created without the knowledge of Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in the Philippines. The cartographer, Sebastian Münster, based his knowledge on accounts by Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo.

Called the “birth certificate” of the Philippines, the 1554 Ramusio-Gastaldi map officially documented the newly colonized islands almost a decade after Ruy Lopez de Villalobos christened Leyte and Samar after the Spanish royalty.

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