The great majority
of religious Mexican ivory sculptures were not made in Mexico. They were
made to order following European models in continental China and the Chinese
settlements in the Philippines. They were then taken to Acapulco (Mexico)
in a galleon from Manila and, from there, distributed to Spain and other
places in Latin America. These sculptures are also known as Hispanic-Filipino
ivories and sometimes even as Luso-Indian ivories (the Portuguese also
made similar sculptures in their Indian colonies).There are some sporadic
works that were made in New Spain (Mexico).They date from the 16th, 17th
and 18th centuries.
They are personal devotion objects destined to churches, convents, as
well as private households, which means that private citizens and the
Church are in possession of ivory sculptures. These ivories tend to be
anonymous, though some are signed by Sebastian Ramirez, Juan de la Cruz,
Marcos Espinosa, or Diego de Reinoso y Sandoval.
There are sculpted in the round images of Santa Rosa of Lima as a nun
or of Child Jesus in many positions and forms, and detailed and elaborate
triptychs of religious scenes (measuring between 20 and 40 cm).
Nonetheless, the figures that stand out are those of Christ on the cross,
normally dying, and different moments of the Passion. The face can have
oriental features. Sculpted in the round figures show the curvature, slightly
or quite accentuated, of the elephant tusk. They have a height that ranges
between 30 and 90 cm. They show the special characteristics of the ivory´s
grain, in the form of "veins". Generally, ivory crucifixes are composed
of several pieces, one for the body and other pieces for the arms. On
occasions, the cross has been lost, leaving the sculptures as loose pieces
or free figures. The crosses tend to be of smooth wood or with embellishments.
The ivory is often left in its natural state and only crucifixion scenes
are polychrome, displaying the color red for depiction of the wounds.
These works of arts show signs of natural deterioration specific to this
type of material: yellowing of the ivory, chipping or loss of the polychrome.
and Luso-Indian ivories are a treasure for Mexican as well as for Latin-American
and Iberian (Spain and Portugal) heritage, where they were distributed
and are usually found. They constitute a rare example of métissage and
Their importance lies in their artistic quality, which accounts for their
lasting appeal. This has not prevented them from maintaining their original
use or purpose for devotion. The authorities or private owners are often
unaware of these art pieces, which facilitates their sale and obstructs
In the black market or illicit commerce crucifixes or sculptures are often
taken apart into separate pieces : the cross, the body, the arms and legs,
which are later reassembled. The reduced size also facilitates their transportation.
- Burke, Marcus.
Pintura y escultura en Nueva España. Mexico City, Azabache, 1992.
- Gutiérrez, Ramón
(coord.). Pintura, escultura y artes útiles de Iberoamérica, 1500-1825.
Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra, S.A, 1995.
- Sánchez Navarro
de Pintado, Beatriz. Marfiles mexicanos del oriente en México.
México, Fomento Cultural Banamex A.C., 1986.