Soapstone in two blocks, 212 cm (1800-1805). Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Congonhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (1757-1805).
Known for his prophecies that directly touched the people of his time, Jeremiah had the courage to denounce leaders, priests and false prophets. He pointed out the falsehood of religious practices and acts of idolatry that came to a Jerusalem ravaged by greed and adorned with gold and the fabric of luxury. For forty years he lashed at the priests and military until he was arrested. In his determination to search the truth, he was not ashamed to express his anguish, opening his soul so that everyone came out in defense of the poor.
Placed alongside Isaiah, he stands out for being at the entrance, over the corbelled pillar; he is soon perceived for the undulating phylactery or flag with scripture, which gives frontal and lateral spatiality. A large shadow thrown by the line of the prophetic scroll anticipates the search for light, by the thick and heavy folds that fall from the right shoulder, rising from straight and geometrical shapes and ending in sharp S-shapes at the height of his left knee. The hands are at the same height, one on the scroll, and the other holding a pen below the waistline. If on one side the mantle hides the arm, on the opposite side it shows undulating lines forming light and deep shadow zones contrasting the highest incidence of light with the inclined fold.
The sculpture was designed in such a way that its roundness is accentuated by the movement of the phylactery and the bare, rigid neck, holding the slightly tilted head, this gesture confirmed in the figure just behind Ezekiel.
If seen from the right side of the viewer, the knee-high boot is the element that confirms the profet’s wanderer mission. A short tunic gives us a glimpse of the strong leg, and then makes a sequence of S and lines of triangular crumpled fabrics – such as Aleijadinho emphasizes in his sculptures in wood, such as Our Lady of Sorrows of the Sacred Art Museum of São Paulo. This wrinkled fabric solution, as noted by Robert Smith, is common in the Gothic engravings. In a way, the sequence of visual weights hinders the lengthening of the figure until it reaches the vast curled hair.
A small step back to admire the profile that stands out from the beard in curls in the opposite direction of the hair, we one has the notion of the complex composition of the figure to be seen from different angles at the same time, due to the empty space at its front. Boot, leg and fall of the mantle form the rigid structure of the figure, broken by a wide V-shaped fold of the mantle forming a top that combines with the curve of the phylactery in terms of volume. For being the first to be seen, along with Isaiah that is slightly curved forward, Aleijadinho has put the weight on the back of the figure without forcing it to lean. For this, he took advantage of the volume of the folds at the front and side of the piece, and the head nearly straight looking above the mortals. As he is a visionary prophet, for sometimes he is represented with a stick full of eyes, Aleijadinho interpreted him looking up – as opposed to Isaiah that looks over to the skyline.
The rear part resembles that of Isaiah, with little work to valorize the full impact of the frontal view, which can also be enjoyed from both sides by a small body displacement.
The prophet of lamentations or of the tragedies he envisages is generally represented pathetically. Michelangelo painted him in the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512) as a tormented old man with one hand between the abundant white beard holding his bowed head . His whole posture is despondent and shadows are projected even on his clothes below.
I cry the disaster of Judea and the ruin of Jerusalem and pray (among my people) for those who want to return to the Lord. Jeremiah, ch. 35.
In Latin: DEFLEO IUDAEAE/ CLADEM SOLY/ MAEQUE RUI/NAN: AD DOMINUM/ QUE VELINT,/ QUAESO REDIRE /SUUM. JEREMIAS, CAP. 35.
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