Pinnacle Pursuit: The ‘Dinemonyo’ Altar Table
- 9 June 2022
A most elusive and sought after example of colonial Philippine furniture in sterling condition from the collection of a prominent Manila family is coming to auction. This 18th century dinemonyo altar table – named after the distinctive lion mask carvings on its corners – has furniture connoisseurs and aficionados captivated. Historically, tables such as these were owned by friars and used exclusively in churches. They would later be emulated by the affluent principalia and ilustrado families who used them to display their venerated gilt wood and ivory saints. Part of what makes this dinemonyo table highly covetable is the intricacy of its most distinctive design features. In addition to its gargoyle details, the ball and claw feet are superlative, making this truly a pinnacle object worth pursuing.
Early 18th century altar tables originating from Batangas carry with them distinct marks of Chinese influence brought by trading and migration. Minimalistic, and somewhat rustic in design, these altar tables made by Chinese artisans replicated the same pragmatic and linear qualities of Ming dynasty furniture. With their rudimentary lines and delicate curves that prioritized grace over extravagance, these pieces combined simplicity and sturdiness with elegance. Deliberately designed to be restrained and muted in style, its owners relied upon the high quality and color of the hardwood to speak for itself.
Eventually, embellishments and ornate carvings such as gargoyle figures were added for aesthetic purposes and, because of the intricacy of the craftsmanship involved, ensured their high value. The symbolism of these grotesquerie protrusions, which were often placed in Buddhist temples, imperial palaces, and medieval cathedrals as ‘guardians’ with powerful protective benefits, imbued these altar tables with an aura of auspiciousness befitting the social and economic stature of their owners.
Indeed, the pristine “demonyo” masks that adorn all four corners of this altar table are a rare delight to behold. The bulging eyes, prominent noses, and agape fanged mouths exude a menacing demeanor; and yet their overall effect is softened by the connecting legs, which curve downwards towards the highly detailed feet resting on round-edged stretchers mounted in turn on ogee feet.
Combining these complicated designs is the antique Chinese mortise and tenon (closed and through types), as well as the dovetail, that have allowed the joints of this altar table to remain strong over the centuries. Even the prized wood used – balayong. also known as rosewood – to assemble this antique table gives it a natural luster with its stunning reddish brown color that deepens further as it ages.
The craftsmanship of this dinemonyo altar table is such that Salcedo Auctions’ furniture specialists have deemed this piece comparable to those kept as treasured antiques in the Philippines’ leading private collections and museums.