Last week, I attended the launching of Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar’s book about one of the greatest Filipino sculptor who lived during the time of Rizal – Maestro Isabelo Tampinco y Lacandola (1850-1933) or Isabelo Tampinco.

Isabelo Tampinco

Held last August 22 (Friday) at the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila, the event was graced by collectors Ernie and Araceli Salas, representatives from the National Museum and Vibal Foundation.

According to Dr. Pilar, Isabelo Tampinco is the most ‘unheralded’ Filipino artist of the late 18th Century, he is the Filipino master in the art of sculpting as Juan Luna is to painting.  Both Rizal and Luna were his contemporaries and he even sat at the same studio where our national hero practiced the arts.  But unlike the other two, he never left the Philippines for Spain.

Isabelo Tampinco is a master sculptor who is known for his woodcarvings and also his works on the famous facade of the Manila Cathedral, the high relief on Santo Domingo Church’s molave door, the main altar of Laoag Cathedral, and the interior of the old Senate Session Hall which is now the main building of the National Museum of the Philippines.

Tampinco is known for his trademark called ‘estilo Tampinco’ that infused native motifs, flora and fauna with art nouveau which is generally found in almost all of his woodcarvings, furniture designs and frames.  According to Dr. Pilar, Tampinco created art not mainly for art’s sake or for proprietary reasons but for practical and usually commissioned projects.  He created numerous ornaments and sculptures for churches, homes and public buildings.

Isabelo Tampinco also won awards and recognition including a silver medal for the carved wooden cover of Fr. Manuel Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas (1882) and a silver medal with diploma de honor for his entry at the Exposicion General De Las Islas Filipinas (1887).

Sadly, majority of his works were either damaged in the war like the ceiling panels he created at the Transept and Apse of San Ignacio Church (1887) which is one of the 8 Great Churches of Intramuros and was then called as an ‘obra maestra’ revelled by everyone who saw it, foreign or local.

Other works of Tampinco were lost in obscurity and it’s really quite difficult to trace his works since he didn’t keep a written account or even leave a signature on each one of them.  Art historian Santiago Albano Pilar spent 10 years of research, family interviews and looking at old magazines and newspapers.  A painstaking process to discover a few surviving works of the famous Filipino sculptor.

“Revisiting our past does not simply mean unlocking deep, dark secrets of how our country and our people used to be,” said Dr. Pilar. “It is a rediscovery of our rich cultural heritage and through hundreds of forgotten master artists, such as Isabelo Tampinco, an exquisite part of our heritage lives on which allows us to shape our society today.”

Some of Tampincos works (majority of which are from the collection of Ernie and Araceli Salas) are currently being exhibited at the Fundacion Santiago Hall (Gallery IV) of the National Museum located at Padre Burgos Drive from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Tuesdays to Sundays.  Admission is free on Sundays but limited to families and groups of less than 10.

The book, THE LIFE AND ART OF ISABELO TAMPINCO published by Vibal Foundation and the National Museum of the Philippines is a tribute and a testament of the artist’s greatness.  Edited by National Museum director Jeremy Barns and features exclusive photos of Tampinco’s works from the Salas and Don Conrado Escudero by photographer David Fabros.

THE LIFE AND ART OF ISABELO TAMPINCO is the latest art book under Vibal Foundation’s Arte Filipino series that includes The Life, Art, and Times of Damian Domingo; The Life and Art of Botong Francisco, The Life and Art of Lee Aguinaldo, The Life and Art of David Medalla, and The Life and Art of Francisco Coching.

Author Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar is also known for his other art books which includes Juan Luna: The Filipino as a Painter; Pamana:The Jorge B. Vargas Art Collection; and Domingo Celis: Inspired Calm and Harvest of Saints.  For his works in art history, Pilar received the TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) Award in 1980 and the Araw ng Maynila Award: Tagapag-alaga ng Sining in 1996.  Art historian, UP professor, Exhibition Project Consultant to Ayala Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pilar is also the editor of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Volume IV: The Visual Arts.   

During the launch, Vibal Foundation also introduced a video documentary called Estilo Tampinco which chronicles the life and works of one of the Philippine’s forgotten master.  It features interviews with THE LIFE AND ART OF ISABELO TAMPINCO book author Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar, National Museum director Jeremy Barns, Ernie Salas and Don Conrado Escudero.

THE LIFE AND ART OF ISABELO TAMPINCO will be available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, Powerbooks, and other major bookstores nationwide in September.

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