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HOME : Decorative Arts : Masterpieces : Wooden Head of a Saint
Wooden Head of a Saint - LO.883
Origin: Ceylon
Circa: 1600 AD to 1800 AD
Dimensions: 13.5" (34.3cm) high x 7.5" (19.1cm) wide
Collection: Portugese
Style: Indo-Portuguese
Medium: Wood, Gesso

Location: Great Britain
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Carved out of solid wood, covered in gesso and painted in semi-naturalistic way, this head may represent either a Saint or a disciple of the Christian Catholic church. The elongated head painted with pale completion, terminating in a long beard and moustanche, the eyes open and mouth sealed in a severe expression.

The head belonged to a small group, now gathered in the Barakat collection (see LO.882 and LO.881), discovered in a sealed room in the cellar of an Anglican church in the city of Colombo in Ceylon, in 1998, when engineers were underpinning the foundations. The church originally belonged to the Catholic Portuguese, and was passed over to the Dutch Reformists in the first quarter of the 18th century.

The style of the head would seem to place it just prior to the Dutch conquest. During the 16th and 17th centuries the practice of keeping the beard prevailed among the Roman Catholic clergy, especially amongst the foreign missionaries involved in the establishment of the Far Eastern Missions. This group of heads are stylistically affine to the early Jesuit and Franciscan iconography employed prevalently during the 17th century in India, after the foundation of the Catholic mission in Goa by St Francis Xavier, when not only the Christ but also saints, such as St Xavier and Thomas the Apostle, were often portrayed long-bearded.

Furthermore, towards the end of the Catholic presence in Ceylon (ended 1658) wooden heads and large saintly figures were indeed used not only as votive images in churches, but also as didactic vehicles in the Natya Nadagam (Nativity) plays, to introduce the Christian religion to the indigenous public.

The head here illustrated, differently from the other two in the group, which clearly depict the passion of Christ, might represent a saint close to the missionary cause, perhaps even St Francis Xavier, who was already canonized in 1622 and would therefore fit the description perfectly within the time frame. - (LO.883)


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