Antonio Olave Palomino was laid to rest at the Almudena cemetery in Cusco this past Thursday. Fittingly for one of the most influential Cusquenian artists of his time, he was laid to rest on Peru’s national holiday (July 28).
Antonio Olave Palomino was the creator of the contemporary “Niño Manuelito”, a wooden sculpture of baby Jesus in the image of a traditional Andean boy. In the San Blas area of Cusco you can find the “Niño Manuelito” in every souvenir store but the “Niño Manuelito” is actually one of the few authentic Cusquenian souvenirs you can buy. I literally don’t know any Cusquenian family that does not have a “Niño Manuelito” in their home.
I’ve heard a few variations on the story behind the “Niño Manuelito” but the contemporary “Niño Manuelito” was created when Antonio Olave traveled to Vilcabamba around 1975 to help restore a church that had been damaged by a mudslide, there he heard the legend of Q’alito which inspired him to create the “Niño Manuelito”.
According to one version of the legend, ushers in the church would find the image of baby Jesus in their church with dirty feet because baby Jesus would leave the church and play with the local kids. One day a local boy stepped on a thorn and hurt his foot. Another boy, named Q’alito, was hearding his sheep and purposely stepped on a thorn to console his friend, telling him: “don’t worry, I’m hurting too”.
I think the “Niño Manuelito” is so popular here in Cusco because he personifies the themes of “Jesus is one of us”, and that Jesus is hurting for the ordinary Cusquenian.
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I didn’t know Antonio Olave personally but in passing I heard the family talk at his funeral, they didn’t talk about what a great artist he was, they talked about what a great father he was. That’s good enough by me.
(Spanish) link to article on the “Niño Manuelito” in La Republica.