Ifugao figure, Northern Luzon Island, Philippines
In her "ode" to the ancient bulul sculptures of the Ifugao (in Monbrison and Alvina, 2013, p. 215), Marian Pastor Roces celebrates their sensitivity of expression, deep serenity, and their sense of power, suggested with a great economy of means. These three qualities are represented superbly in the offered lot.
According to Pastor Roces, these "aesthetics of quintessence", governed by a collective thought system, draw in part from the Ifugao's fascinating cultural landscape. In northern Luzon, for almost 4,000 years, the Ifugao have made their mark on the magnificent landscape of the Cordillera Central, sculpting the hillsides into their famous rice terraces, the technical prowess of which fades before the poignant beauty of their gently rolling lineations. The essential role of rice cultivation for the Ifugao is reflected in the rituals governing their cultural and religious life, and in the emphasis placed on the bulul, which are an "artistic form of expression intended to figure the divine in correlation with rice, its culture and its growers” (ibid).
Although Bulul statuary conforms to the canons accepted by the community, it sometimes reflects - as is the case here - the individual talent of the sculptor, who is able to "imbue the statue with a presence or emotional power" (Palencia in Tribal Art, 1998, p. 58). Here, the virtuosity with which the sculptor conveys the combination of strength and serenity that emanates from the figure is expressed both in the perfect poise of the stance - down to the elegance of the long arms' characteristic movement - in the face, where the eyes are inlaid with seeds, and in the delicate details of the clavicles, rib cage and oversized hands.
Palencia (ibid, p. 59) attributes the male counterpart to this sculpture (fig. 15, Ex-collection Joel Greene, now in the the Yale University Art Gallery as a promised gift of Thomas Jaffe) to the Hapao-Hungduan style, "a region famous for its high degree of creativity and virtuosity [...] the site of the oldest rice terraces and, according to popular legend, the place of origin of the first master carvers in the beginnings of the Ifugao culture." See Monbrison and Alvina (ibid, p. 229, No. 150) for a closely related bulul rice divinity, also from the Hapao region, and dated to the 15th - 17th century, in the collection of Alain Schoffel Collection. Like the latter, this masterpiece of the ancient bulul tradition clearly predates the 19th century.
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