Esteban Sampzon (fl. 1773-1800) is perhaps, the earliest Overseas Filipino religious sculptor who found work in Argentina, South America in the late 1700s, as documented by the Spanish art historian, Enrique Marcon Dorta. A birth record under his name exists in the parish of San Bartolome in Malabon.
Virtually nothing is known of his early life in the Philippines, or whether he received his artistic training there. Most likely, Sampzon reached Spanish America via the Manila Galleon or Brazil. He was already known making a living as a carver n Buenos Aires in 1773, when he was recorded living in a monastery in Santo Domingo.
Specializing in extremely naturalistic sculptures of saints characterized by a powerful sense of emotion, Sampzon became one of the leading sculptors of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. In 1778, he identified himself as “escultor de profesion y de condicion indio de la China”. He was already married to one Bernardina Hidalgo when he moved to Cordoba between 1787 and 1807, after receiving commissions from the Dominicans.
In 1788, he was involved in a lawsuit after an injury. This resulted in his arrest on orders from Mayor Francisco Antonio González of Cordoba, and a trial ensued before the Royal Audiencia. Sampzon won his case and received financial compensation. After all, he was highly regarded as a creator of sacred images for the Church .
The rest of his life were spent between the cities of Cordoba and Buenos Aires. Blindness and disease took their toll on this gifted Filipino artisan; he sold some of his property and settled in Buenos Aires, where he died circa 1830.
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 of the seventeenth century. His realistic anatomical treatment of figures were also noted.
WORKS ATTRIBUTED TO SAMPZON:
• Christ of Humility and Patience (Church of La Merced)\
• San Judas Tadeo, (Church of la Merced, ”un San Judas tadeo, Buena escultura de Esteban Sampzon, escultor Filipino, fue regalado en 1803 por Francisco del Escalado”)
• Christ of the Good Death • Santo Domingo Penitent (Fernández Blanco Museum, Buenos Aires. The penitent is depicted naked, characterized by a finely carved hair, though not as fine as those in Sampzon’s native land)
• San Matias, Lucas, Marcos, Juan, (the 4 Evangelists, Cathedral of Córdoba, Córdoba
ART OF COLONIAL LATIN AMERICA, by Gauvin Alexander Bailey.Phaidon Press, Ltd. 2005, p. 64.
POWER + FAITH + IMAGE, by Regalado Jose & Ramon Villegas, Ayala Foundation. (c) 2004.