The Sultan of the Exquisite: Don Martin Imperial Tinio Jr.
Martin Jesus Tadeo Imperial Tinio Jr. (June 25, 1943-July 9, 2019) would have glided effortlessly into any imperial court of any century. If he had been born amid the Medici’s magnificence, he would have become those Florentine dukes’ indispensable adviser on the marvels of gold and silver. I sat with him one afternoon at León Gallery as he patiently pointed out the difference between “chasing” and “repoussé” on a splendid 19th-century relic-holder. He sighed, as he turned it this way and that in the light, “I would snap this up if I were richer — or younger!”
Sonny Tinio would often say that collecting was a young man’s game but in truth, he never really lost his appetite for the next drop-dead gorgeous thing, or the tastiest morsel of gossip. On the other hand, if he had walked the mirrored halls of Versailles, he would have also become an instant favorite, brimming with the most sacred secrets of the aristocrats.
When I visited him a few days before his demise, he was stretched out on his hospital bed, nibbling on golden cherries as if he were snacking on grapes on a Roman dais, attended by a maid and a manservant who would scamper around at his every whim. He inexplicably began to tell the tale of Rizal’s sisters — who allegedly had had a falling out over a spoonful of sugar and refused to say a word to each other for 12 years. “Imagine that!” he chortled. He parodied an imaginary conversation between the two sisters, channeled through their nursemaids. “Sabihin mo sa senyorita mo na matabang ang ulam,” he grinned mischievously. We both burst out giggling at this fanciful scenario played out in each other’s heads.
He had traveled the archipelago in search of the exquisite — silver and saints, ivory and gold, the architectural flourish, carved beds, bookcases, wardrobes, chests of drawers and traveling bauls. His photographic memory was legendary.
Martin Jesus Tadeo Imperial Tinio Jr. was the grandson of the “Lion of the North,” General Manuel Tinio, master strategist of the Philippines-American War. His father, after whom he was named, was the 11th child of 13 offspring. Sonny, on the other hand, was the eldest. He was followed by nine siblings: Ma. Concepcion Tinio, Ma. Carmencita Katigbak, Manuel Tinio III, Ma. Christina Adriano, Ma. Victoria Clemente, Ma. Elena Calupitan, Gabriel Tinio, Domingo Tinio, and Ma. Cecilia de Siebenthal.
He was not an especially vain man but was quite proud of his pedigree: He would often refer to General Tinio who would become not just governor of one of Luzon’s most prosperous provinces, but also its richest landowner.
Sonny was a tireless scholar, who would nevertheless generously share the lore he had accumulated over what seemed to have been several lifetimes in lectures, essays, catalogue entries and art videos, many for León Gallery, which I would (to his glee) report that his were among those most viewed. I never doubted for a minute that good taste and high style would ever go out of fashion, especially if narrated by Señor Tinio.
He was also a genealogist and gourmet cook. (I would tease him that he had singlehandedly killed off the entire pawikan or turtle population of the Bicol provinces with his appetite for this delicacy.)
His last project was for the newly opened Intramuros Museum but he was already too indisposed to attend its opening. Sonny had been heroically fighting off kidney disease and his great heart reportedly just stopped as he was being trundled from his hospital room to his almost-daily dialysis treatments. He had just turned 76 exactly two weeks before. He is survived by his wife, Ma. Virginia Young Teehankee Tinio.
Indeed, Don Martin Jesus Tadeo Imperial Tinio Jr.’s demise is a terrible blow to Filipino art and culture. Most of all, this gentleman of the old school will leave a gaping hole in the hearts of the collectors, historians, curators that enjoyed his company and partook of his encyclopedic knowledge.
His wake will begin today at 5 p.m. at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills through the next day, July 16th. His remains will be interred on Wednesday, July 17, in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija.