Habakkuk, the eighth of the Minor Prophets, was from the tribe of Levi and was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. When the prophet Daniel was stuck in the lions’ den, God asked him to take food to Daniel, guided by an angel. He spent a few years in captivity in Babylon and, back to Jerusalem, is regarded as the guardian of Solomon’s temple. In the midst of his troubles, the prophet questioned God about why he did not act before their claims against the oppressing Chaldean people.
Rear view of the figure – Habakkuk’s position corresponds to Obadiah in the extremes of the churchyard. Both figures can be clearly seen from a distance and the use of broad gestures turn them into important visual points in the set design, which is complete with Isaiah’s arms close to the body and Ezekiel’s invitation. Gradually the prophets’ bodies seem to gain movement and their torsos accompany such movements together with the necks and head inclinations. The rotations are accompanied by the steps and movement of the garments, whose thick folds mark the opposite directions of the draping, sometimes inflated by the winds, sometimes by the broad gestures of Obadiah and Habakkuk. The phylactery always holds the composition on the side views creating close-ups. The back views are based on the lines of the mantle folds, straight to his shoulders, or forming S-shapes at the height of the hands, where they can compose rounded masses of virtual weights that combine with exotic caps or turbans.
Habakkuk’s statue rear view is worthy of the compositional richness of the front view. In this case, almost only two views apply, because he must be observed from the bottom up and the believer, in constant motion until he/she reaches the entrance of the invitation staircase, where Isaiah and Jeremiah will receive him/her with restrained gestures. Overhead, the rear view is approximate and the details are visible. A complex draping with diagonal lines sets the extreme gesture of the prophet to raise his left arm. The phylactery surrounds the mantle on the right side with soft curvature combines with the parapet curves where the sculpture rests. The compositional contrast, to the Baroque taste, moves the gaze to the zigzag folds that reach the waist and rehearse an almost vertical climb that meets the diagonal lines of the folds of the damask-patterned mantle, reaching the arm.
Aleijadinho develops, when sculpting the rear part, a real treaty of the Baroque sculpture expression, when he veils and unveils his intentions in the execution of the Habakkuk’s head. Aware that his face was turned to a void – because the prophet is vehemently preaching to the outside world – the artist turn the prophet’s face in a direction opposite to that of his gesture, forcing us to move our eyes between those two focal points. As to participate in this experience the believer must be outside the churchyard and at a distance, Aleijadinho reserves for the viewer who is approaching only a part of the prophet’s profile, which, half hidden, is shown only after the look has contemplated the careful draping of the fabric of the cap tied to a tripartite tassel. The turban fabric advances in V-shaped grooved folds that expand on the vast strands with ends curled in opposite directions, one back over his shoulder and another in the opposite direction to announce part of the prophet’s profile. In this game of revealing only a portion of the figure, the hair volute creates a dark area before displaying the lower part of the illuminated face. A new dark zone is created by the exotic wound tissue that serves as the basis for the cap, creating on the prophet’s head a staggering of rounded shapes.
Seen from below, from a distance, the volumes of the sculpture are seen from the front and side because of its arrangement and design. The boot’s toecap leaving the pedestal is covered by the tunic that goes up straight, while the mantle comes out from behind the phylactery in ascending curved lines to meet the opposite end of the mantle jutting out into space, creating a dark zone that combines with the shadow projected from the head. The right arm holds the parchment with the Biblical text, while the left one is projected obliquely to the bust line with a V-neck and protruding collar. The hair is away from the left side to compensate the exaggerated line that continues to the tip of the index finger. The curls on the right side foreshadow the beard that ends in four rounded tips that are disguised by the lines of the winding mustache. From this angle, the volumes of the headdress virtually disappear, giving way to the perfect profile that ennobles the prophet.
The prophet is often depicted as if he were prophesying, and Aleijadinho goes to such extremes as lifting his arm, pointing to the sky. Florentine sculptor Donatello, in the Renaissance, carved Habakkuk (1420-1435) wearing a long toga that left his shoulders and feet bare and hairless. Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel, portrayed him young in full force, with a full head of hair, gesturing with his left hand while half opening a book with the right. In Armenia, the Orthodox Church celebrates his day on December 2 and his icon is recognized by the finger gesture in signal of preaching.
Oh Babylon, Babylon, I accuse you, oh Chaldean tyrant: but you, oh gracious God; I chant in psalms. Habakkuk, Ch. 1.
In Latin: TE BABYLON,/BABYLON, TE TE CHALDAEE TY/CALDAEE TY ARGUO : TE IN PSALMIS TE DEUS/ALME CANO./ HABACUC/CAP.1.
Aleijadinho e a escultura barroca no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1970.
NAVARRO, José Gabriel.
Contribuiciones a la historia del arte em el Ecuador. La Compañia. Quito : Ediciones Trama, 2006. v.4.
OLIVEIRA, Myriam Andrade Ribeiro de.
O Aleijadinho e o santuário de Congonhas. Roteiros do Patrimônio. Brasília : Monumenta/Iphan, 2006.
SORAIA, Maria Silva.
Profetas em movimento. São Paulo : Edusp/Imprensa Oficial, 2001.
TEIXEIRA, José de Monterroso.
Aleijadinho, o teatro da fé. São Paulo : Metalivros, 2007.