[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] In 18th century, Pinoy sculptor is ‘missionary’ to Pope’s homeland



For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.


MANILA—Can the first Filipino migrant missionary in South America be a sculptor?

That’s if Filipinos will start to dig up and know about the history and life of a Filipino religious sculptor in Buenos Aires in the 18th century.

Poles apart is Argentina, with an approximate distance of 17,115 kilometers from the Philippines, but for Esteban Sampzon, whose identity is not known by many, Argentina was his second home.

Santo Domingo Penitente, a sculture made by Filipino Esteban Sampzon (photo taken from http://www.fotodoc.com.ar/?p=169)

Santo Domingo Penitente, a sculture made by Filipino Esteban Sampzon (photo taken from http://www.fotodoc.com.ar/?p=169)

And if this overseas migration story by Sampzon holds forth, this sculptor may be one of the Philippines’ earliest-recorded overseas Filipinos.


‘Unusual’ sculptures

Nothing is known about the early life and biography of Sampzon but the “unusual” religious sculptures he made in Buenos Aires was his trademark.

Dr. Regalado Trota Jose, archivist of the University of Santo Tomas, found in 1981 a book titled Arte Eh America y Filipinas, authored by Enrique Marco Dorta, a historian who’s one of the pioneers of Spanish art. Arte Eh America y Filipinas contained some of the works of Sampzon as well as brief information about him.

According to Dorta’s book, Sampzon was an active sculptor from 1773 to the 1800s in Buenos Aires. His being a Filipino national was discovered through the padron (a list of residents within each area in Argentina) wherein he identified himself as escultor de profesion y de condicion indio de la China.

One of Sampzon’s works, found in Sto. Domingo in Argentina’s Cordoba province is the Santo Domingo Penitente (The Penitent St. Dominic): an image of the founder of the Order of Preachers (O.P.) half naked, which is now at the Fernandez Blanco Museum in the Argentinian capital Santo Domingo Penitente reveals the iconographic type popularized by the Dominicans, a saint kneeling with a star half naked, disciplining himself with chains.

Another work of Sampzon can be found in the book of Margarita Estella (1984), the foremost writer on ivory sculpture in Spain. Estella’s book titled la Escultura Barroca de Marfil en Espana: Las Escuelas Europas y las Coloniales contains San Judas Tadeo, located at the Nuestra Senora de la Merced Basilica in Buenos Aires, after this work was given by Franciso de Escalado in 1803.

A book by Ramon Gutierrez titled Pintura, Escultura y Artes Utiles en Iberoamerica showed another sculpture of Sampzon titled Cristo de la Buena Muerte (Christ of the Good Death) which shows a unique depiction of one of the stages in the passion of Christ.


Unusual route

It remains a mystery how Sampzon had reached Argentina; according to Jose, Sampzon might had been part of the “experimental forces” in looking for new trading routes at that time, apart from the usual routes of the Galleon Trade: from Mexico to the Philippines.

In the 2012 book titled 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann, the photo caption on Sampzon’s sculpture Cristo de la Paciencia y la Humilidad (Christ of Humility and Patience) wrote: “Carried across the Pacific from Manila by the galleon trade, the Chinese artist Esteban Sampzon became one of Buenos Aires’s leading sculptors at the end of the eighteenth century.”

“In the late 18th century, in the time of Sampzon they were already trying to explore different routes to Spain, bypassing Mexico,” Jose told The Filipino Connection.

Sampzon may not be among the biggest names in the field of art in Argentina but he “had merits and recognitions during his time,” said Jose.

Other renowned works of Sampzon include: The four evangelists at the Cathedral of Cordoba (circa 1805); St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, the Crucified Christ (all found at the Church of Santo Domingo, also in Cordoba), and Christ of Renca.

The 2005 book Art of Colonial Latin America by Gauvin Alexander Bailer wrote that Sampzon got married to one Bernardina Hidalgo when he relocated to Cordoba between the years 1787 and 1807. In 1788, Sampzon won a lawsuit in a trial before the Royal Audiencia.

Quoting Bailer’s work, blogger Alex R. Castro wrote that Sampzon’s style “reflects that of the iconographic tradition of Spanish Juan Martinez Montanes and other Baroque masters”.

“His works are described as imbued ‘with a certain calmness and rhythmic facial treatment,’ typical of Chinese-Filipino talleres (workshops) of the seventeenth century,” Castro wrote. “(Sampzon’s) realistic anatomical treatment of figures was also noted.

Shuttling between Cordoba and Buenos Aires, Sampzon got blind as disease had forced him to sell some of his properties. He eventually died in Buenos Aires, circa 1830s.


Unusual ‘missionaries’

The Philippines currently has an estimated 10.45 million overseas Filipinos scattered in over-200 countries and territories, as well as ocean-plying vessels as seafarers. South America is not a frequent destination: only an estimated 19,472 Filipino workers, immigrants and irregular migrants (as of the year 2012) are in central and south American countries, says government estimates.

And way before overseas migration had permeated the lives of modern-day Filipino workers and their families, a Filipino migrant has already stepped into the soils of Buenos Aires and started to evangelize in another country using his own platform: the arts.

The Argentinian Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio), during his apostolic visit to the Philippines, showed how he cared for Filipino migrant workers and also showed his admiration to overseas Filipinos who bring with them their strong faith. Francis even called on overseas Filipinos to be “missionaries”.

(The Vatican has a Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People that handles the global Catholic Church’s migrant ministry.)

With Pope Francis’ recent visit, the story of Sampzon shows “that even in his (Pope Francis’) country there are also OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] —and then this one (Sampzon) rose among the rags to become a published artist,” said Jose.

While no one still knows much of Sampzon’s background before leaving for Argentina, or even his purpose of going there, this Filipino migrant in the land of the Pope has already started the mission.



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