Prophet of faith and political justice, Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the second half of the eighth century BC during the reigns of Ahab and Hezekiah. Isaiah receives the believers in the invitation staircase of the shrine. He is the first on the list of the Vulgate (sacred texts translated for popular understanding) because he is the most important prophet and author of the first book of the prophets. Well known in both the Old and New Testaments – in the latter, he is quoted more than eighty times. He was responsible for maintaining the hope and faith that one day the Messiah would bring salvation, and therefore prophesied the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and the birth of Christ (these prophecies are in the pictorial scenes inside the Basilica).
Isaiah is the first prophet to the left on the corbelled pillar of the gate above the first level of the staircase, acting as an inviting figure. Upon entering, the pilgrim notes – from a front view – that it is a body mass without broad gestures and all its members are held close to the mass, forming an inseparable unity. A short tunic clearly reveals the boot with zigzagging shoelace, the phylactery, a parchment with the prophet’s name, and the Biblical text. Above, his hands are close to each other, the left one holding the scroll and the one on the right indicating the prophecies. Shaped like a large V, the arms ensure that the look rises to the most significant part of the figure: a long split and bulky beard, that begins at his parted lips from which flows, with ardor, his words foretelling punishment. The hair is flattened by the mantle fabric that surrounds him in a mysterious way, dignifying the mythical image of the veiled prophet when he is taken by God.
The believer perceives the second position from the profile, with the rising line of the phylactery and the hand that holds it with folds of the mantle over his arm, interspersed with deep cuts of the gouge forming voluminous with reversed V folds. The second ascendant line begins at the mantle fold with drawings imitating a damask pattern. The beard and curly hair highlight the prophet’s perfect profile.
The rear part can be seen from the first step, going up. However, this path is used to descend the stairs, after the believer has completed his/her penance. Three drapery folds raise the figure while two oblique parallels reinforce the weight supported by the mantle over his head. The lower flowing mantle and the damask patterned fabric starting at the undulating lines of the hem, at the support height, and above, at the large spread with the complete sequence of baroque designs, relieves a part of this monumental piece of art.
Finally, the side that can be seen when one comes down the stairs, out of the churchyard or in bird flight coming down to the last step. The boot is highlighted, combined with a small volute of the mantle that rises from the pedestal. In the middle of the figure, a large piece of crumpled fabric creates the volume that counteracts with the covert head located among the shapes of the tucked fabric on the arm, with triangular lines, and the wavy beard that elevates the profile shaded by a small forelock, whose shape combines with the lifting of the fabric at the feet.
It consists of two blocks, like most of the other works, connected at the shoulders. As already pointed out by experts on Aleijadinho, such as Myriam Andrade Ribeiro Oliveira, the upper and lower parts lack conjunction, and the shoulders, despite of the mantle are narrow, and the arms are short. These are the marks of master’s studio assistants, because he was already at an advanced age. However, all critics are unanimous in acclaiming this effigy as the strongest in plastic beauty and expressive depth, whose countenance is illuminated by the divine spirit.
The prophet tells in first person singular, as if he were a character-actor becoming aware of his prophetic mission. His lips are purified during a seraphim vision on fire form foreshadowing the truths that he should speak for his new mission to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Iconographically, he has short garments, a cloak that covers his entire back to form a monastic hood investing his new role to play. The fabrics of the mantle are damasks, pleated and wrinkled, fall into rhythm that ranging from the hood, passing the mantle over his shoulders and arms, making clear his hands. On the right;, holds the phylactery and on the left, indicates the written words. His boots rise to the middle of the shins and the roll with scriptures hidden part of them. The head is the most elaborate, starting with the long beards that in rolls driping on the crumpled mantle in an continuum inverse to the drapery. His concern countenance is marked on the forehead furrows revealing old age, while still exudes wisdom, even whispered, from his lips compressed. The lips of the prophet were touched with a burning ember; symbolically, the coal is related to the Passion of Christ; the throne of the Lord, where the angel departed its, refers to the Messiah. The two curved lines of his mustache that coming out of the nostrils and join with the curl of the abundant beard rolls, serve as a frame for the lips that had received the mark of the Lord.
There are examples, such as the sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Braga in Portugal, where the prophet is represented with tongs, symbolizing the prayers of sinners. Raphael portrayed Isaiah with veiled head by a long tissue showing full head of hair and beard, while unfolding the phylactery with his prophecies. In the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican (1508-1512), Michelangelo painted the picture of God creating Adam as lord of time (Chronos) and wisdom, boasting vast beard, same attribute that there has endowed the prophet Zechariah. Are the other figures with the beard that come closest to Aleijadinho’s Isaiah.
In his phylacteries are written the summary of seven of his verses: After the seraphims celebrated the Lord, one of them brought to my lips a burning coal with tongs. Isaiah, ch. 6.
In Latin: CUM SERA/PHIM DOMI/NUM CELEBRA/SSENT A SERAPH/UNO ADMOTA/EST LABRIS FOR/CIPE PRUNA/MEIS./ISAIAE CAP. 6
His book can be divided into three parts with the first, with 39 items, contains the prophet Isaiah’s message that cares about the holiness of God, elevating him to an absolute being. His land will be saved if it remains united and faithful to God’s plan, that has justice as supreme value. The second part, between 40 and 55, was written by an anonymous prophet who lived in Babylon during the captivity of the Jewish people. Isaiah, on live in anonymity, transmitted a message of hope, consolation and return from captivity. In the latter, can also be of Isaiah, the prophet launches anonymous oracles encouraging the union of the people who had left the Babylonian exile, encouraging the fellowship in Jerusalem.
He is regarded as the king of the prophets by their language and rare literary culmination, according to J. Ginsburg. He was taken by God and his prophetic word bears stripped monumentality, rhythmic by exaltation of the spirit and by the contemplation of form, injustice complaint and the prediction of punishment.
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