"Masterpieces of a highly original, moving, expressive form of Baroque art"
[in the words of UNESCO, upon declaring the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho a World Heritage Site]

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho was built in the second half of the 18th century. The Twelve Prophets adorning the parapets and the front courtyard of the church were carved from blocks of soapstone.

Who was Aleijadinho? Architect, painter, sculptor --
Brazil's Greatest Baroque Artist

remains largely unknown beyond its borders.  There are signs, however, that his art, together with the work of other Brazilian baroque artists, is being discovered by the rest of the world. "A revelation," one art critic enthused.

In 2001 and 2002 there were at least two major international exhibitions that showcased Brazilian baroque art.   One such exhibition - Opulence and Devotion: Brazilian Baroque Art - was held at the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, England. It was the first time that Britain had the opportunity to see Brazilian baroque art.

At another exhibition of Brazilian art - Brazil: Body and Soul - this one organized by the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the work of Aleijadinho and of other Brazilian baroque artists was represented extensively.

Both exhibitions received favorable reviews on the part of the art critics. If interested in reading two such reviews, click below:
The Soul of Brazil,
A Trip Along the Amazon.

Did Aleijadinho really exist? Or is he just a composite of the many highly talented artists that worked in the rich and prosperous 18th-century towns of Minas Gerais? Such is the debate going on among  some Brazilian historians over the last couple of decades. The article "Aleijadinho: Myth or Reality" reviews the  ongoing controversy over this issue. 

Whether myth or reality, Aleijadinho  continues to capture the imagination of the Brazilian people.  The recent Brazilian movie Aleijadinho, Passion, Glory and Torment attests to this fact.

Finally, architecture buffs will enjoy reading "In Aleijadinho's Shadow: Writing National Origins in Brazilian Architecture," an article from Thresholds, a publication of the Department of Architecture at MIT. The article has a most interesting discussion of the mythical stature of the hero-architect.

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Architect, Painter, Sculptor

Antônio Francisco Lisboa (1730? - 1814), known as Aleijadinho (Portuguese for "Little Cripple"), is Brazil's greatest artist and architect before modern times.  He was born in Ouro Preto, the son of the Portuguese craftsman Manuel Francisco Lisboa and a black slave. 
In the 1770's Aleijadinho began to suffer from a debilitating, crippling disease, which grew progressively worse. It could have been syphillis or leprosy. He eventually lost his fingers and toes, and the use of his lower legs.  Despite his physical disabilities, he was a prolific and exceptionally talented artist who created Brazil's best baroque art, known as "Barroco Mineiro" -- a distinctive art form that developed in Minas Gerais in the 18th century. 
Aleijadinho travelled only once outside his native Minas Gerais, when he went to Rio de Janeiro, some 500 Km from his home town.  Through pictures and books, this increditbly talented self-taught artist incorporated the European Baroque and Rococo traditions into his own work, with hints of the classic and gothic. He used only native materials, like soapstone and wood, in his work. His art, as historians have pointed out, is characterized by syncretism and fusion, which created an essentially Brazilian style. 
His masterpieces are the Church of São Francisco de Assis (built in 1766) in Ouro Preto; the Church of São Francisco de Assis (1774) in São João del Rei; and the majestic statues of the Twelve Prophets (1800-1805), which are symmetrically arranged on the steps and terraces leading up to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho in Congonhas do Campo. 
The two baroque churches of São Francisco are characterized by a remarkable feeling of balance, serenity,  harmony.  On the other hand, his Twelve Prophets -- the work of his mature years -- have a gothic and expressionistic feel about them. By the time the artist started working on the statues of the prophets, his health had deteriorated considerably, and he was in constant pain caused by his crippling disease. 

In 1985, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho, the Twelve Prophets, and the wooden scupltures housed in the seven chapels in the gardens of the Sanctuary became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is how UNESCO describes the Sanctuary: 

"It consists of a church with a magnificent Rococo interior of Italian inspiration; an outdoor stairway decorated with statues of the prophets; and seven chapels illustrating the Sations of the Cross, in which the polychrome sculptures by Aleijadinho are masterpieces of a highly original, moving, expressive form of Baroque art." 
The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho is located on the top of a hill in Congonhas do Campo, a town about 80 Km from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais.  There are frequent daily buses from Belo Horizonte to Congonhas, and vice-versa. From the bus station (estação rodoviária) located on the outskirts of Congonhas, take either a taxi or a local bus (marked BASÍLICA) to the Sanctuary, about 3 Km away. Walking  is not recommended, for the streets leading to the Sanctuary are very steep, and the sun very hot. 

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This is one of the seven chapels in the beautiful and peaceful gardens in front of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Matozinho on the top of a hill.

Each of the chapels contains a tableau depicting scenes of Christ's Passion. Some of the life-size polychromatic statues, carved out of cedar, are the work of Aleijadinho. Some were painted by Manuel da Costa Ataíde (1762-1837), who is considered one of Brazil's greatest baroque painters.

A panoramic view of the immaculate gardens, which overlook the town below. On the horizon, the blue mountains are visible. The pictures below show various  tableaux of the life-size  wooden statues depicting scenes of Christ's Passion. These tableaux are housed in the chapels.


Note: All photos throughout this website are by & the property of E. F. Giacomelli
© 2004  E. F. Giacomelli
Updated  July  2004

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