The book Estilo Tampinco, detailing the lives and times of master sculptor Isabelo Tampinco and his sons Angel and Vidal, as well as their contemporaries in Manila’s late-nineteenth-century art world, was a labor of love for its author, Dr. Santiago Albano Pilar, who worked on it for over ten years, doing in-depth research and striving to identify and catalog the remaining extant works of the Tampincos.
Estilo Tampinco affords readers a different glimpse of the Philippines in a period spanning the last years of Spanish rule, through a tumultuous Revolution up to the early days of American colonization. Although many of the names mentioned are familiar to a lot of us, including Jose Rizal and Juan Luna, the persons central to the narrative are not, and we find ourselves asking why they seem to have been forgotten.
While the book was in production, we sat down with Dr. Pilar for a conversation on Isabelo Tampinco and the style he pioneered, and tried to find answers to some of these questions:
Isabelo Tampinco is arguably a forgotten master whom we must rediscover. But why must we rediscover him? What makes Isabelo Tampinco such an interesting and important figure in the history of Philippine art?
SAP: There is a need to revisit our past, to know our cultural heritage…this is very important in order for us to develop a national identity, which will lead to development also of national discipline… I want also to write books on our forgotten artists; not just Tampinco, but forgotten artists and forgotten aspects of our culture, because we have to be aware of our past. We are increasingly being distanced from our past and we’re continually forgetting who we are as a Filipino.
Now Tampinco is a very important figure in our history and in our arts because he was, like Luna, an achiever… he was on the top of his field and he produced a lot of work that should be remembered now, that should enrich awareness of our cultural heritage. Tampinco is the Luna of sculpture, and his creation particularly of a style called “estilo Tampinco,” really became a daily aspect of Filipino life in the early 1900s, in the sense that we had frames all over the Philippines inspired by his Tampinco style.
He did not necessarily create all of those frames incorporating floral motifs from our native flora, but he started the trend: the use of anahaw incorporated with various leaves and flowers along what you call the art nouveau style. We felt that there was a national style that could identify us people as one when the particular style was being used.
In the book, you give weight to the community of artists in old Manila with whom Tampinco worked and lived. How did this community shape Tampinco as an artist?
SAP: Not only Tampinco… there were hundreds, literally hundreds of achievers in sculpture also, that were on par, even, in their achievements with him. Awareness about the other sculptors will make us aware, really, that our cultural heritage was rich. When we talk of paintings, it’s not only Hidalgo and Fabian de la Rosa, but there were also hundreds or thousands of other people whom we should go back to and look at our past through them.
For example, his brother-in-law who also carved a lot of religious images inside the San Ignacio church and did also exquisite sculptures. This group of artists that were along with him… I don’t want to say that they were simply the chorus behind Tampinco. There should be a book about all of them.
What, exactly, was the Estilo Tampinco? In what ways did Tampinco incorporate oriental, native, “Filipino” motifs into his works? How and why did Tampinco develop this style? What was the significance of Tampinco’s style in the context of art/nationalistic movements in the Philippines and in Europe at the turn of the 19th century?
SAP: When Tampinco incorporated the anahaw, particularly combined with what we call the [bonga], and it spreads and is used as an arch in his frames …These motifs created this awareness that since these plants are from our native soil, then he was also elevating our nativeness, our being Filipino.
But this thing, this idea of incorporating floral motifs, was also inspired by the style that was current in the period which was called art nouveau. Art nouveau is characterized by unpredictable directions of curved lines, exaggerated curved lines. He used the Philippine plants, stylized it along these curves in order to follow the trend of art nouveau which was also flourishing in Europe at that particular time. So at the same time that he created this, it was also appealing because it was also in fashion.
It is the baroque ornamentation that he incorporated… he followed a particular design by a Spanish artist but transformed it through this addition of his carvings. And there were reliefs, there were sculptures, aside from the architectural parts that he adorned in a particular church.
The originality of Tampinco is in being able to adapt the European design into Philippine, into our needs, Filipino needs. In other words, he created a style that is baroque, but baroque according to the way we understand it.
You mentioned the church of San Ignacio earlier. Does this church have any significance for Tampinco?
SAP: Unfortunately San Ignacio is no longer existing but we have photographs of it. The splendor of the church is shown in the ornamentation done by Tampinco. I think I mentioned in my book that the design for the altars was not by Tampinco, but it was Tampinco who made this design beautiful by adorning it with carvings. And particularly, one of the most attractive parts of that building is the ceiling, but unfortunately, as I’ve said, it doesn’t exist anymore.
Ah, yes… it’s that church that was said to have been Tampinco’s crowning glory. But he produced a variety of works in various materials and on different scales… Are there any extant works of his that have been recovered or preserved over the years, especially after the war? Where are they now?
SAP: Tampinco was known in his lifetime for sculptures in wood, particularly figurative sculptures, not the saints, but even historical figures of the Spanish colonial past. What we have now are his works during the American period, in which he focused on plaster of paris.
So we see he created, built, his sculptures incorporated into classical architecture—in other words, like buildings, the old congress, and then of course the cemetery sculptures. Unfortunately because of this interest in Tampinco that we are reviving now, we probably see a lot of sculptures in the cemetery disappearing because of this antique trade.
It is his sculptures in plaster that have been preserved, in his atelier in his house in Arlegui which has been fortunately preserved, and it’s these casts that make us aware of his genius now. The rest, particularly the wooden ones, inasmuch as religious sculptures are not signed, are difficult to identify. That will be again the work of the scholars in the future. So right now we have to be content with images of his works that have been preserved in publications before the war and this fortunate survival of his casts in his house in Arlegui.
Yet Tampinco has all but “disappeared” from the public consciousness. How did he come to be forgotten?
SAP: We have been victims of the World War II, which destroyed a lot of important examples of our cultural heritage. In one book I have mentioned that we have lost 90 percent of our cultural heritage and of course Tampinco’s work is included. And because of this loss of memory, because of this loss of the reminder of our past, we have tended to forget our past. Another thing is the result of colonization, in which we have continually admired the culture of other nations, and therefore we have tended to forget our own past.
By 1925, or eight years before Isabelo Tampinco died, there was a new style in Europe called the art deco, which is completely different from the art nouveau style in the sense that art nouveau is curvilinear and art décor is very geometric. Art deco is exemplified in the facade of the Metropolitan Theater. So we can say that the classical style of Tampinco lost its appeal for the Filipino public. Even in Europe, the art deco took over as the current fashionable style and therefore that led also to the forgetting of Tampinco’s style.
Has Tampinco influenced succeeding artists and/or art movements in the Philippines? How has Tampinco figured not just in the development of sculpture but of other related fields, such as architecture and interior design?
SAP: The art of Tampinco is what you call classical realism. All his figures were idealized representations of the human form, and he had two sons who naturally trained under him, namely Angel and Vidal Tampinco. Angel was focused more on decoration… architectural decoration or interior decoration, while Vidal continued this legacy of the artist in plaster of paris.
In fact, since Vidal was hired and taken care of by the House of Precast, it was Vidal who continued this style of Tampinco. So it was Vidal who continued his legacy. If we go along the highways of the Philippines, we see sculptures of women, nude women that are supposed to decorate fountains, or children, or nude young boys… all of those are influences of Tampinco’s classical style.
It continued in the classical sculpture done by Tolentino, but this is a different sensitivity. This style, although it echoes the old classical style of Tampinco, has different characteristics and is more romantic. The classical style is a little bit cold, but the romantic style of Guillermo Tolentino is more imbued with deeper emotions.
Last question: How can we benefit from rediscovering Isabelo Tampinco’s vision and legacy?
SAP: Tampinco is really very important in the sense that he came out openly and discussed his intention of creating a style that would identify us, and for that matter we should not forget that particular example that he gave to us. Interest in his works has to be revived, also because we need to enrich our memory about our heritage.
Estilo Tampinco will be available in leading bookstores this November. For inquiries and reservations, please call our sales department at +63 2 712 9165 or email us at email@example.com.