A "bulul" or carved wooden figure from Ifugao was bought for a record-breaking 630,000 euros or about P36.1 million at a French auction last Friday (Philippines time).
The "bulul", initially estimated between 200,000 to 300,000 euros (P11.4 million to P17.2 million), was among the items auctioned from the collection of Béatrice and Patrick Caput, at an event in Paris hosted by Christie's, the world-renowned art and luxury business founded in 1766.
The provenance, or its history of ownership or origin, is one of the factors that determine the value of an item at auctions; this is the reason for the high price of said "bulul".
According to Christie's listing, the earliest known owner of the bulul in 1918 was William Gabuk Beyer. He is the son of Henrey Otley Beyer, who has been called the "Father of Philippine Anthropology."
The bulul was then obtained by Alain Schoffel in Paris in 1970, and then by Béatrice and Patrick Caput also in the French capital in 1989.
Christie's appraisal of the bulul describes it as "a masterpiece of Ifugao art" that "dazzles by the universality of its form."
"Thanks to its purified aspect, we can see as many possible links with the great statuary of the past as with that of the present. Notably, thanks to its intrinsic geometry, it is possible to evoke a kinship with some of the oldest anthropomorphic representations, such as certain plastic creations of the Neolithic or Cycladic art. At the same time, by reducing and simplifying the anthropomorphic representation as much as possible, the artist has created an abstract interpretation of the human figure, giving it a powerful serenity. In the case of this formidable sculpture, it is its great plastic quality and in particular its formal ambiguity - its archaism and its modernity - that convey an indisputable timelessness," it said.
The Bulul is an Ifugao anthropomorphic carving that symbolizes an Ifugao rice god or guardian spirits. It also signifies fertility and is sometimes believed to house the spirits of ancestors.
Although bululs are now produced and sold as a variety of souvenir items or decorative art, it is a fundamental part of Ifugao culture. Bulul plays an important role in the agriculture of the Ifugao people. It is involved in the ritualistic aspects of rice production, from rice planting to the safekeeping of the harvest in rice granaries. The sculpture is made mainly as a guardian of a rice granary. The process of creating a bulul includes the baki or a ritual by the mumbaki or priest to ensure its power. Careful selection of the wood is made and it is consecrated with pig's blood.