Aleijadinho's  Masterpieces

"A Poem in Stone"

Partial view of the statuary in front of the Basilica of Bom Jesus do Matozinho, in Congonhas do Campo, about 80 Km south of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais.

Aleijadinho's Twelve Prophets are symmetrically arranged on the parapets of the steps leading up to the Basilica of Bom Jesus do Matozinho. These impressive, lifesize statues carved from blocks of soapstone form a dramatic tableau. The  statues have a sense of movement and dynamic quality, as well as a brooding feel about them. The great Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade called them a poem in stone.  The Basilica is located on the top of a hill, with a panoramic view of the town below, with the hills on the horizon.

The twelve prophets, the basilica with its magnificent rococo interior, and the seven chapels with the 60 figures sculpted from cedar (also the work of Aleijadinho) became  a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In the words of UNESCO, they are "the showpieces of a highly original, moving, and expressive baroque art."

The peaceful gardens in front of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matozinho, with the cobbled path leading up to the church



"The prophets are really impressive -- almost spooky, they look so real at a distance. We arrived just at sunset and were determined to see the front of the church before dark. Lota started rushing up a wall-like stone street, calling out the window, 'The Prophets! The Prophets!'  [. . .] There were the prophets, brooding and prophesying doom and destruction, against the stars -- really quite a sight above that funny, completely dead little town."

American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), in a letter to a friend, dated April 25, 1953 (One Art, Elizabeth Bishop: Letters Selected & Edited by Robert Giroux. New York: Farrar - Straus - Grioux, 1994
-- Elizabeth Bishop (1956 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; 1970 National Book Award) lived in Brazil with Lota de Macedo Soares, a Brazilian architect, for over 15 years. Elizabeth bought a house in the colonial town of Ouro Preto in 1965, and had it restaured.

There is a gothic, expressionistic feel about about the statues of the prophets as they stand larger than life in the courtyard of the basilica with the hills on the horizonThese statues are the product of Aleijadinho's mature phase, when he was in very poor health.

© 2004   E. F. Giacomelli
Updated July 2004 

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