Not so many people recognize his name and only a few know about his grand works and life story. It is about time that the public discover Isabelo Tampinco, one of the greatest sculptors in the history of Philippine art.
His life and works are now immortalized in a book, The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco written by art historian Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar and edited by National Museum director Jeremy Barns. The book, published by Vibal Foundation under its Artes y Filipinas series, was launched last August 28 at the National Museum.
In the book’s preface, Barns wrote: “Tampinco’s obscurity is wholly undeserved, as his life and work remain central to the understanding the development of art in the Philippines.”
“The art of Isabelo Tampinco has always been the known to a small group of connoisseurs and specialists, especially those fortunate enough to have his work among their treasured family heirlooms. Tampinco’s work is a legacy that is certainly unique for being both rare and ubiquitous,” Barns added.
Tampinco presents a comprehensive gallery of the master’s works as well as archival photographs of his lost masterpieces.
The 350-page book gives a masterful history of one of the Philippines greatest sculptor and highlights the artistic talent of Tampinco, his development, his valuable contributions to Philippine sculpture that was continued by his sons Vidal and Angel.
Pilar’s vivid storytelling of Tampinco’s life is accompanied by rich visuals of sculptors’ works and influences.
Although Tampinco is a great artist, his legacy and contribution to Philippine art was regarded as ‘unknown and unheralded.’
“Isabelo Tampinco was the most famous and achieved Filipino sculptor in the Spanish period. If Juan Luna was the greatest Filipino painter, Tampinco was his counterpart in sculpture,” Pilar said during the launch.
Since most of Tampinco’s works were destroyed during World War 1, including the architectural designs and ornaments of San Ignacio Church, the Jesuit mother church of Intramuros in the late 1880s, his surviving works were preserved and can be found in private collections, museums and churches.
Since 2011, some of his notable original and restored sculptures are displayed the at National Museum’s Fundacion Santiago Hall.
“The national museum protects and promotes the country’s rich cultural heritage through comprehensive restorage, conservation and promotion.”
“Museum visitors can view and admire the restored old Senate Session Hall inside the National Museum with the spectacular carvings of Tampinco restored to its pre-war glory.”
“Through the exhibition of Tampinco’s works, the National Museum pays tribute to the work of an artist and his cultivation to the development of Philippine art.”
Rediscovering the Master
Tampinco was born in 1850 to a family of Filipino-Chinese descents. His parents Leoncio Tampinco, also a sculptor, and Maria Justia Lacandola, hail from Binondo in Manila.
In 1862, Tampinco studied drawing and painting at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura under Agustin Saez.
When he was orphaned, Tampinco began working as an apprentice at the taller or workshop of Candido Alfonso in exchange for artistic training. There he earned enough money to continue his formal studies under Agustin Saez and Lorenzo Rocha until 1870. Before becoming a sculptor, Tampinco was already a master wood carver. Although he apprenticed in ateliers in Binondo, was constantly in touch with artists from nearby district of Sta. Cruz, Manila.
His early works were woodcarvings or sculptures of saints or ornaments for churches, mausoleums and tombs or what is known as funerary sculpture. His style, represented in most of his works, ranged from art noveau classics, classical realism, genre realism and neoclassicism.
In 1869, the Spanish government in Manila under Governor-General Jose dela Gandara Navarro, established the Escuela de Artes y Oficios that served as a training ground for local talents in engineering, architecture and public works. It was there that Tampinco first learned his lessons in casting, modeling, and architectural ornamentation.
Tampinco and national hero Jose Rizal attended the same drawing classes at the Academia de Dibujo de Pintura.
It was in 1876 when Tampinco’s works first became recognized. One of his sculptures, the Busto de Madera, was chosen to be one of the Philippines’ representative works to the Exposition of Philadelphia. It was also in the same year that Tampinco was commissioned to furnish the Corinthian capitals of the Manila Cathedral which was then under rebuilding after it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1863.
His works earned him more accolades in the art circle. In 1880, Tampinco recieved a Merito Civil in the field of sculpture from Governor-General Domingo Moriones. After two years, he was awarded a silver medal with a diploma of the first class for his ornately carved wooden cover for a deluxe six-volume edition of Flora de Filipinas by Fr. Manuel Blanco. In that same year, he was commissioned to decorate a memorial for King Alfonso XII of Spain.
In 1887, Tampinco received his biggest achievement during the period — silver medal and a diploma de honor for his individual entries at the Exposicion General delas Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain.
He received his first gold medal in 1889 at the Exposicion Universal de Barcelona for the wood sculptures and carvings of the interior decoration of San Ignacio Church.
He became famous for his Estilo Tampico, which incorporated designs of tropical Filipino flora in his works.
The earliest known article exclusively written about Tampinco was published in 1905.
In 1929, he gave a lecture at the University of the Philippines, explaining the principles of Estilo Tampinco and his efforts to create a native of Filipino style in the arts.
Tampinco passed away on January 30, 1933, leaving behind a treasure trove of furnitures, ornaments and sculptures of angels, saints, Greco-Roman characters, found in churches, homes and public buildings.
Brothers Vidal and Angel Tampinco continued their father’s foundry.
A collection of treasures
Most of the sculptures photographed by David Fabros for the book were from the vast collection of art patrons and collectors Ernesto and Araceli Salas. The couple said they “collected Tampinco’s works by accident.”
They discovered Tampinco when they started collecting art masterpieces in the 1980s. Salas said at that time, it was very difficult to get hold of the much coveted works of artists like Fernando Amorsolo, Juan Luna and Vicente Manansala. “There were so few available and most of the artworks were already in the hands of collectors. We were left with the simple option of “we buy what we can see,” Salas said.
“We looked for a good artist who doesn’t have to be famous but whose works we could collect and the competition’s demand is less so we would be able to lay our hands on very good, fabulous pieces. Our research uncovered the name of Don Isabelo Tampinco,” Salas said.
“We discovered his Galleria that was almost sunken to the ground. We started buying one piece at a time,” said Salas.
The Salas family started collecting Tampinco’s works out of sheer admiration and desire perpetuate to the works of a master.
“Most of the works were cast in polychrome plaster of Paris and aged over a hundred years old. They could break anytime without notice. This book project is one way to perpetuate the memory of an unheralded artist,” Salas said.
The publishing of the book has its own history, with the production process spanning more than 10 years. The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco will be available at National Bookstore and Fully Booked branches beginning September.
Images by the author. Some rights reserved.