Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory

This ivory sculpture of Jesus traveled between three continents, demonstrating the global flow of materials, objects, and Christianity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City), speakers: Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker


Trade between the Philippines, New Spain and Spain

Trade between the Philippines, New Spain and Spain


Both the Philippines and Mexico formed part of what was once called the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was controlled by the Spanish Crown. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Spanish galleons (large, multi-decked ships) began to sail between Manila (in the Philippines) and Acapulco (in Mexico). This trans-Pacific Manila Galleon trade created an important route for the global exchange of materials (such as silk, spices, porcelain, and ivory from Asia and silver and gold from the Americas). Many of the resources and goods coming from Asia would also travel overland from Acapulco to the Gulf Coast of Mexico, at which point they would be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

These objects are often labeled “Hispano-Philippine ivory sculptures” to denote their creation in the Philippines (or possibly even China) but made for a Spanish clientele (whether in the Spanish Americas or the Iberian Peninsula). The artists may also have been originally from China.

Artists carved a number of small-scale devotional objects, like Christ Crucified from ivory— a luxurious material in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. While some of these ivory sculptures were ultimately destined for Spain, many remained in the Americas. An object like Christ Crucified also demonstrates the global reach of Catholicism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.



  • New Spain
  • Manila Galleon
  • ivory
  • trans-Pacific exchange


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Ivory Jesus

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Additional resources:

Learn more about New Spain

Learn more about the expanding the renaissance initiative

Learn about a New Spanish folding screen that also speaks to the Manila Galleon trade

Read about the Manila Galleon trade on The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline

Marjorie Trusted, “Survivors of a Shipwreck: Ivories from a Manila Galleon of 1601,” Hispanic Research Journal, 14:5 (2013): 446-462

M. Estella Marcos, Ivories from the Far Eastern Provinces of Spain and Portugal, ed. by L. Sada de González (Monterrey: Espejo de Obsidiana Ediciones, 1997)

For the classroom

Print out and use the Christ Crucified active note-taking activity (for teachers and students)

Mapping activity

Print out a blank world map (like these ones), and have several different colored pens or pencils available. Choose 3-4 objects to track across the globe. Some examples of objects that can be used for this activity include:

Mark each object’s point of original production, and then add points to the map where they moved. Use a different color for each object.

  • What do you notice about these objects’ movement in space and time? Do these objects intersect at any points? What does tracing their movements in space tell us about the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?


Discussion questions

  1. Compare the sculpture with other depictions of Christ Crucified from the renaissance, such as Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece or Juan Martínez Montañés and Francisco Pacheco’s Christ of Clemency. What does this comparison tell us about how peoples in different parts of the world pictured the Crucifixion?
  2. Compare Christ Crucified to other examples of objects made for private devotion, such as Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion Triptych (c. 1445). What do they have in common?
  3. What does Christ Crucified tell us about global trade in the 17th century? Consider other New Spanish objects, such as featherworks, folding screens, and paintings on copper that might also speak to issues of trade, cross-cultural exchange, and the cosmopolitan nature of New Spain.
  4. The video mentions that Crucified Christ speaks to the new global reach of Catholicism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. How do other objects and spaces speak to this as well? You might consider spaces like the mission church of San Esteban del Rey at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico or paintings like Bernardo Bitti’s Coronation of the Virgin in Peru.
  5. How does our understanding of art and artists of a specific time period shift when we focus on objects that moved across vast distances over time? How do we categorize objects that migrate?


Research topics

  1. Consider the history of ivory sculpture over time and in different cultures. How does Crucified Christ fit into a longer history of ivory sculpture that we see in objects such as the Minoan Statuette of a Male Figure (The Palaikastro Kouros, 1425 B.C.E.), the Byzantine The Emperor Triumphant (Barberini Ivory) from the 6th century, the Pyxis of al-Mughira from AH 357/ 968 C.E., and the Queen Mother Pendant Mask (Iyoba), 16th century, Edo peoples, Court of Benin?

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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:12] We’re in the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, and we’re looking at this large sculpture in ivory of the crucifixion of Christ. It’s a fabulous example of the complex trade routes that existed in the late 16th and early 17th century, when we think this was made.

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:22] This object in ivory would have been produced in, likely, Manila, in the Philippines. The ivory would’ve been imported from somewhere else because it was not local, so maybe from India, or maybe even beyond that.

[0:33] And then the ivory workers in the Philippines were actually being trained initially by Chinese artists who were familiar with working in this technique, and they were producing these objects for export across the Pacific.

Dr. Zucker: [0:44] It took tremendous effort to get ships across that ocean, but there were regular voyages between Acapulco, on the Pacific coast near Mexico City, and the Philippines, both lands controlled by the Spanish.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:55] An object like this would have made its way via the Manila galleon trade, kitting into Acapulco, then would have been carried overland to Mexico City, where it either would have been purchased or made its way further overland to the port of Veracruz and then made its way across the Atlantic back to Europe.

Dr. Zucker: [1:10] Mexico was in the center of this complex web of trade between East Asia and Europe, with Mexico right in the middle. It would have been very precious objects like this that would have been important enough to go on those kinds of long-distance journeys.

[1:22] Now, Mexico City in turn would have been trading with East Asia, with the precious metals, for instance, that it was extracting, so gold and silver would have been making their way east in exchange for objects of ivory and silk and ceramics.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:35] An object like this would have likely been in a private chapel for someone who is very elite. This is not the type of object that was probably going to be on display in a major altarpiece in, say, the cathedral.

Dr. Zucker: [1:46] Well, it’s too small, but for a piece of ivory it’s enormous. If you look at it carefully, you can see that the main pieces that make up this Crucifixion mimic the natural curve of an elephant’s tusk. You can understand how this was constructed.

[1:58] Each of the arms are carved from individual tusks, and it’s possible that the body is actually put together, although it’s difficult to see where from our vantage point. Nevertheless, the original turn of the tusk is still evident and adds emotional power to this figure as it animates the body of Christ.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:15] This object is a perfect example of the cosmopolitan nature of Mexico or New Spain.

Dr. Zucker: [2:20] It’s so interesting for me to think about such a powerfully religious subject, the result of Chinese knowledge in the hands of Philippine artisans traded in Mexico. It speaks to the vast global networks of trade in the early modern period as well as the new reach of Catholicism.

[2:37] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory," in Smarthistory, April 3, 2020, accessed June 14, 2024,