Finally, the recognition Isabelo Tampinco deserves

Some of the works of the master sculptor at the Gallery 4 of the National Museum PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

Some of the works of the master sculptor at the Gallery 4 of the National Museum PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

Vibal and National Museum publish book on sculptor’s ‘life and art’

What the great Juan Luna had done for painting, this gifted man has done for sculpting.

He is Isabelo Tampinco, one of the most “unheralded” Filipino artists of the early 19th century.

And just like Luna, Tampinco was a contemporary of Dr. Jose Rizal; but unlike the two Filipino legends, Tampinco never left the Philippines for Spain. Instead, he thrived in his motherland all through the American period to inspire more distinguished sculptors like Napoleon Abueva and Guillermo Tolentino.

All this and more will finally be told and known almost a century after Tampinco’s death as Vibal Foundation—in partnership with the National Museum and art collectors Ernie and Araceli Salas—launches The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco, a book by Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar.

Indeed, it is about time.

The discovery
On Friday, an exclusive media preview was held at the National Museum to introduce The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco. In an interview with The Manila Times, the Salas couple shared how and why they initiated the project.

“We thought about this because Isabelo Tampinco is one of the most unheralded Filipino artists, forgotten over time. We are glad that this book gives justice to his life and art,” Ernie shared.

Ernie related that he and his wife first discovered the artist’s work 30 years ago.

He recalled, “My wife has a very fine eye for art. And we wanted to collect the likes of Luna and [Vicente] Manansala. But then, very few [works of theirs]were left in the market.”

The couple then decided to look for a “lesser known artist” to collect, but whose art is nonetheless at par with those of famous ones.

It was this search that led them to discover the name of one Isabelo Tampinco.

Intrigued by his identity, the Salases made the effort to learn more about the man and were eventually able to meet the late sculptor’s relatives in Manila.

When they finally saw the artist’s sculptures in his old taller, Ernie said, “We decided, ‘This is the artist we will collect’.”

The couple started to buy the Tampinco’s work from the family one piece at a time.

“And over the years, we were able to accumulate [a great deal]. But more than all this, we also saw how each work spoke of the greatness of the artist.”

Since everything happens for a reason, it turned out the Salases had more than just Tampinco’s work to pursue and appreciate.

“We are honored grateful we can be of help to pave the way to immortalize the name Isabelo Tampinco as the artist’s descendants had asked us to do.”

The book author, Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar, is also an arts historian and teacher PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

The book author, Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar, is also an arts historian and teacher PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

The task
For the book’s author who is also an arts historian and teacher, writing about Tampinco involved considering multiple aspects.

He chose, however, to begin “with the fact that Isabelo Tampinco was the most famous and achieved sculptor in the Spanish period.”

“In other words, he was the Juan Luna of sculpture,” he said.

The author believes so because like Luna, Tampinco had exhibited works in European cities most especially in Madrid, and received numerous medals and merits.

But unlike the painter, Tampinco was a “second-class citizen” who could not afford to go to Spain.

Born on November 19, 1850 in Binondo, Tampinco was the son of Tampinco y delos Reyes and Maria Justa de Lacandola, a descendant of Rajah Lacandola of Manila.

According to Pilar, the sculptor studied at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura for drawing and painting. At one time, he also became classmates with Rizal in a modeling class at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila.

Tampinco was able to start his career in his 20s with works dating as early as 1870.

His most important recognition came from the Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain in 1887. There, his individual entries received the “diploma de honor.”

The sculptor had two sons, Angel and Vidal, whom he was able to pass on not only his skills and talent but also his passion for art. Angel pursued architecture and design, while Vidal continued the “family business” when his father died on January 30, 1933.

To pay tribute to a true Filipino artist, Pilar elaborated on Tampinco’s versatile artistic style that always changed with the trends of his time.

According to the author, there was a revival of the gothic style in Europe when Tampinco began his art, even while he was trained in school with a classical foundation. These two styles became very evident in his designs of churches, such as that of the fallen San Ignacio Church in Intramuros, Manila.

The Salas family—couple Ernie and Araceli with daughter Rhoda—lends National Museum their own Tampinco collection for Filipinos to view, enjoy and impart

The Salas family—couple Ernie and Araceli with daughter Rhoda—lends National Museum their own Tampinco collection for Filipinos to view, enjoy and impart

Considered as his “monumental work,” Tampinco’s handiworks were featured on the altar, the pillars, the ceilings and the other intricate portions of the church. Specific examples of his work were polychrome wood figures of saints and angels.

Tampinco, through the advice of Luna, also took on art nouveau later in his career. This stage showed the true Filipino artist in Tampinco because he began incorporating Filipino elements—like native flora and fauna—in his carvings. His most favorite Filipino element were the banahaw leaves. Using these on his famous works, the detail became known as “Tampinco frames.”

Finally, when the Spaniards left and the American colonizers came, Pilar shared that Tampinco “enjoyed the newfound freedom.” He was able to complete majority of his nude sculptures, mostly in either plaster of Paris or concrete.

Tampinco’s most famous and preserved works include the façade of the Manila Cathedral; the high relief on Santo Domingo Church’s molave door; the interior of the Old Senate Session Hall of the National Museum; and the Malacañan Palace Entablature, among others.

All in all, Pilar spent 10 years of in-depth research on Tampinco’s life and works. He even took pains to doors and ask families if they had a Tampinco, and also poured over old magazines and newspapers to identify discovered surviving works.

The significance
The publication of The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco is an important step in achieving the due recognition the sculptor deserves as one of the most important Filipino artists of all time.

For the National Museum, the book effectively calls for the preservation of Tampinco’s works, just as they advocate for other Filipino artists.

Representing the museum, Robert Balarbar, officer in charge of the arts division, said, “The National Museum protects and promotes the nation’s rich cultural heritage through comprehensive research, conservation and public programs. In light of this, the National Museum pays tribute to the work of an artist and his contribution of Filipino art.”

Balabar added that since 2011, the National Museum’s Gallery 4 has exhibited Tampinco’s sculptures with most of the pieces coming from the Salas Family Collection for visitors to enjoy, view and impart.

Pilar, whose mission in life is to write about unknown Filipino artists, echoed Balarbar’s sentiment. He expressed, “The arts is the foundation on which we can build our national identity, and also our progress as a nation.”

Besides the book, the foundation also produced the “Estilo Tampinco”  documentary, which chronicles the rediscovery of the Filipino master. It contains interviews with the author; Jeremy Barns, National Museum director and book editor; and Tampinco aficionados and collectors like the Salas family and Don Condrado Escudero.

The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco is the latest art book under the Vibal Foundation’s Arte Filipino projects. It will be available in bookstores nationwide this August.

For inquiries and reservations, call Vibal sales department at 712-9156, e-mail, or log on to


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  1. Geoffrey V. Tampinco on

    Hi! everyone I am one of the Tampincos… As my cousin says if it didn’t pass thru them it should not be worth your money. I don’t know how Dr. Pilar came up with this book if he didn’t go thru my relatives in Manila. We are really disappointed as they didn’t consult the Tampincos. Surely their infos are lacking of substance and they are paying royalties to the wrong family for this book.

  2. carmina tampinco vilches on

    I am the grand daughter of Vidal A. Tampinco, i live and i grew up in the ancestral home of my great grand father Isabelo L. Tampinco. The daughter of Vidal A. Tampinco, Luz Z. Tampinco my tita was surprised about the launching of the book because we were not informed about it. She was wondering who supplied them about the life and works of my great grand father. We are sorry to say the true Tampinco Clan were bypassed about the publication and the launching of the said book.

  3. It’s about time for Isabelo Tampinco to be recognized and hailed as the greatest Filipino sculptor of the 19th century.