Soapstone in one block, 219 cm (1800-1805). Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Congonhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (1757-1805).
Daniel – means God is my judge – is one of four major prophets who lived two extremes in life: was attended by governors because interpret dreams, and captive when exiled to Babylon. The envy of his enemies led him to be thrown alive into a pit with lions.
As a young man was taken to Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. There in captivity interpreted the king’s dream of the four kingdoms that would come upon the earth; the last, of God, would not be destroyed. Also interpreted the dream of the king Belshazzar with four beasts – lion, leopard, bear and a last beast with ten horns – which would be the powers of that period. The Son of God was above them.
Disposed in prime location, over the corbel base and a sloping punch, serenely awaits the faithful go to the main level towards the door of the temple. The vision that we have from him starts at the foot of Ezekiel’s figure, which had also been banished from the land of Israel to the Babylonian captivity. At his right is Hosea – an eye to eye dialogue between foreshadower men of the Christ’s coming.
The sculpture is monumentalized by the bottom perspective upward, to start at slightly uplifted pedestal and crisped by the paw of the lion, protruding beyond the stand boundaries. With the right paw, elaborated in detail, hides the feet of the prophet, while the voluminous mane grows amid curves and reverse curves to the muzzle of the beast subdued by the mystic prophet look. The detail of the mane brings us the four lions – setting the called essa, the basis for the coffin, which Aleijadinho made for this body masses, exposed in the Aleijadinho’s Museum in Ouro Preto.
If seen by four faces, the volumes of the figure is distributed evenly, creating continuities in several positions. The first covers the front and the side, where the range of the scriptures, flattest, contrasts with the opposite face of the lights and shadows of the rounded lion figure. The sequence of tunic draping is triangular, with well arranged folds from the knee, that comes forward, between the legs and two lines in V from the head of the beast, and foreshadows the great mantle fold with designs that will fall on his back to the base at the back.
The hands and arms are in similar functions – to hold the phylactery on one side and lift the mantle to avoid being scratched by the lion – generating opposite plasticity. His right arm, with the crumpled sleeve, creates a void, while the left arm is hidden by a sequence of ample folds that balances on volumetry with the corporeality of the beast. The great visual weight of the crumpled of the tunic retained by the hand, creates a gap for a dialogue between the two heads – bestiality and humanity. This purposeful space gains visual distractions from the winding line of the mane, the baroque designs of the mantle fold, until give time for contemplation of the head slightly tilted and bordered by extensive hair, similar to the lion. That would not be enough, since the relationship would be immediate. It happens that Aleijadinho enlarges the head of the prophet with a laureate cap with details of leaves, so that our gaze flutters between his beardless face with a sloping nose and the horizontal lines of the branch of laurels, the collar with a vertical line that joins the rounded lines of the jacket and below, in the horizontal belt broken by the sloping line of the fold.
The back of the figure, for its visibility in the churchyard, won compositional refinements based on weight and classic structure: to show its integrity with the attributes – lion and written – the mantle either vertical as a column, sometimes in a zigzag pattern serving as visual and compositional structure. Above, his head and the cap. A human touch, even graceful, denotes an artist who had never seen a lion: the stiff tail moving in S, pushing the mantle and creating a rhyme with the curved line of the phylactery.
When getting off the stairs of the churchyard, the faithful can admire the profile of the prophet, highlighted by the white background of the wall of the frontispiece. Rises from the phylactery, the folds of prominent knee, the arm stretching with mango of crushed fabrics and the most serene profile, deified by his prophecies and dreams revelation of human kings to achieve the eternity in the foreshadowing of the kingdom of God. Aleijadinho have in this work the most from his maturity art, full expression of his strength, rare gift among humans. The beauty embodied in stone is comparable to that of his works in wood, like the mystics St. John of the Cross and St. Simon Stock (church of Carmo in Sabará), culminating moments of the artist’s youth works according to the modernist Mario de Andrade.
The prophet Daniel is the favorite for artists, for being his representation a unusual fact: the interaction between the human and bestiality. In the classical world, Raphael drew him, and, according to Germain Bazin, Aleijadinho had as a reference a picture from this drawing by the Renaissance artist. In the Baroque period, Peter Paul Rubens painted the most celebrated paintings of Daniel’s miraculous in the pit with the lions (1613-1615), encircling him with lots of beasts, like those he had deciphered in dreams. Michelangelo, in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512), imagined him dynamic and at the same time absorbed in the act of writing, whose book is supported by a putto (angel), while his hand rests on the book stiffness. With the other hand he writes and his watchful eye observes the letters. The lion is a symbol of royal power, and sometimes the Virgin and Christ can be represented in throne supported by lions. The treatment that Aleijadinho gave to the lion approaching this piece to a jewel; its paws, so common on the feet of Johannine furniture, gained prominence on the inclined punch.
In Latin: SPELAEO INCLU/SUS (SIC REGE/JUBENTE) LEO/NUN,NUMINIS AU/XLIO LIBEROR/INCOLUMIS. DANIEL/CAP.5.
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