In the state of Minas Gerais, there is a small historic city called Congonhas, known for hosting some art collections from the most famous baroque artist in Brazil, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, popularly known as Aleijadinho. The twelve prophets are the spotlight of this story, but first, let me introduce you to our genius artist.
Aleijadinho was born in the city of Ouro Preto, he was the son of a Portuguese artist and a slave, and lived during the XVIII and XIX centuries. Although there are not many pieces of evidence of his personality, one fact is undeniable: his nickname “aleijadinho,” which means “cripple,” results from the fact he had a degenerative disease, which led him to lose several fingers and all his toes. He would have to walk on his knees, and his tools had to be attached to his arms and legs so he could sculpt and carve.
Looking carefully at some details of his pieces, it is evident he was helped by other artists from his atelier, mainly at the end of his unexpectedly long life (around 70 years). Despite all difficulties, his art has survived along the last three centuries, and he is still the icon of Brazilian baroque.
The Twelve Prophets by Aleijadinho
Baroque art was strongly connected to Catholicism, which is why all of Aleijadinho’s creations were related to biblical stories or figures. The 12 prophets in the churchyard of the Santuário de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, in Congonhas, are a tribute to prophets quoted by the bible, both in Old and New Testaments.
For ten years Aleijadinho worked on the statues, and in 1804 his work came to an end. The features of the prophets point to their contributions to Christian history. Not to mention, of course, some brilliant and subtle ideas added by the genius sculptor and his team. It is a pity that the sculptures are slowly damaged both by natural occurrences and neglect of locals. However, the facial expressions and the details of clothing and other objects carried by each prophet are still visible and distinguishable.
There the four main prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, can be seen in a bigger size along the central wing of the staircase. The eight minor prophets were chosen according to their importance in the biblical canon: Baruch, Hosea, Jona, Joel, Abdias, Amos, Nahum, and Habakkuk.
Many stories and rumors surround the composition of the figures. Some blame the artists from his atelier or his deficiency, and others say it is pure geniality. It is a fact that the distortion is the most controversial issue. If you look to the statues from the stairs, at a higher level, they look distorted. If you look at them from a lower point of view, as most people do, they look regular. This is the reason why some people defend that the distortion is intentional- just like the dramatic and aberrant forms, tradition from baroque style. A curious hypothesis is that the prophet Daniel, with the lion at his feet, was the only one entirely made by Aleijadinho- he stands out from the group for his perfection.
It is maybe the mystery surrounding the history of Aleijadinho that makes his art even more interesting. We will talk more about his artworks and where they can be found in Minas Gerais in the next stories. Stay tuned!
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