Isabelo Tampinco

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Isabelo Tampinco (19 November 1850 – 30 January 1933) was a Filipino sculptor known for his woodcarvings for churches, most notably the Church of San Ignacio in Intramuros: altar, the pillars, the ceilings and the other intricate portions of the church; public edifices; and homes. Specific examples of his work were polychrome wood figures of saints and angels.

Among his works were Manila Cathedral's famous facade, the high relief on Santo Domingo Church's molave door, the main altar of the Laoag Cathedral, and woodcarvings in San Agustin Church. Out of a desire to create a uniquely Filipino style, he incorporated native flora and fauna designs in his sinuous openwork and Art Noveau whiplash outlines style of woodcarving. Among his native motifs were the banahaw, areca palm, and bamboo. The said detail became known as “Tampinco frames.”

A Chinese mestizo and a direct descendant of Rajah Lakandula, he was born in Binondo, Manila on 19 November 1850. He was the son of Tampinco y delos Reyes and Maria Justa de Lacandola. He apprenticed in the carving shops of Binondo and Santa Cruz districts. At age 15, he enrolled at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura, Manila’s art academy, and studied sculpture under Agustin Saez and Lorenzo Rocha. He was hailed as one of the most outstanding sculptors of his time and was admired by Jose Rizal, who was his classmate in a modeling class at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila.

He was able to start his career in his 20s. His works dated as early as 1870. When Tampinco began his art, even while he was trained in school with a classical foundation, there was a revival of the gothic style in Europe. These styles became very evident in his design of churches, such as that of the fallen San Ignacio Church.

At age 26, he was chosen as the representative of the Philippines at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in the United States.

Receiving the “diploma de honor” from the Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain in 1887 was said to be his most important recognition.

When the Spaniards left and the American colonizers came, Tampinco enjoyed the newfound freedom as he was able to complete majority of his nude sculptures. Most of his works were either plaster of Paris or concrete.


Prominent works

Awards and recognition

  • Medal of merito civil for his sculptures (1880)
  • Silver Medal at the Tercentenary Celebrations of Saint Theresa of Avila (1882)
  • Silver Medal and Diploma of Honor at the Philippine General Exposition in Madrid (1887)
  • Gold medal at the Exposicion Universal de Barcelona (1888)
  • Gold medal at the Exposicion Regional de Filipinas (1895)
  • Gold medal at the St. Louis Exposition (1904)

A book, which explores Tampinco's life and the influences that shaped his life, was published by Vibal Foundation. Entitled The Life and Art of Isabelo Tampinco, it also compiles a comprehensive gallery of his extant works and archival photographs of his lost masterpieces. It was written by Santiago Albano Pilar, a professor of art history at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.

Pilar spent 10 years of in-depth research on Tampinco's life and works. He even went door-to-door and asked families if they had a Tampinco. He also poured over old magazines and newspapers to identify discovered surviving works.

The publication of the said book is considered to be an important step in achieving the due recognition Tampinco deserves as one of the most important artists of all time. It effectively calls for the preservation of his works.

Besides the book, Vibal Foundation also produced the “Estilo Tampinco”. It was a 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.


Tampinco was first married to Victoria Jocson and later, to Carmen Angeles. He had a son with Jocson named Angel and another son with Angeles named Vidal. Angel and Vidal eventually inherited Isabelo's skills, talent, and passion for art. Angel pursued architecture and design, while Vidal continued the family business when Isabelo died on 30 January 1933.




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