Download PDF

Exploring the 12 Prophets of Aleijadinho: a 3D visit

Between the myth and the studies

Bastard son of the Portuguese architect and master builder Manuel Francisco Lisboa and one of his slaves, Isabel. He married and had a child with the same grandfather’s name. He studied with the Franciscans in Ouro Preto and accompanied his father in the works. The first biography of the artist was written in 1858, 44 years after his death, by the lawyer Rodrigo José Ferreira Bretas, based on archival documents and testimony. Nonetheless it generated a mythical between the harsh reality he faced with the disease and the beauty of the works produced by him. The boundaries between the myth of Aleijadinho, mulatto and deformed, and that Antônio Francisco Lisboa, architect, sculptor and image-maker, are not always clear because the first is the popular knowledge that causes compassion and the second, cultured, is acclaiming for the largest Brazilian colonial artist.

In the 1920s, he was rediscovered by modernist artists of São Paulo, especially Mário de Andrade, who acclaimed him as a symbol of Brazilian art. Twenty years later, when the foundation of the Institute of Historical and Artistic National Heritage (IPHAN), his biography was revised with the vouchers and receipts signatures of their work, in an article written by Rodrigo Melo Franco. His international recognition came with the publication of the book Aleijadinho et la sculpture baroque au Brésil, Germain Bazin, who at the time (1963) was the conservative and head of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Confirmed as a central figure in Brazilian colonial art, the studies have been extended to specificities like their architecture (especially the Franciscan churches of Ouro Preto and São João del Rey) and the sculptural set of the Sanctuary of Congonhas – the Steps of the Passion and the Prophets. This work was hailed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. His sculptural work has been studied in addition to Bazin, who initially cataloged, generating a list of individual works and one of his workshop were confirmed by an exhaustive survey of IPHAN in O Aleijadinho e sua oficina (2002).

Nothing prevents numerous publications, from articles to theses are developed around the myth of his existence: that his work would have been of a group of artists and later attributed to a single artist; his illness, which would result in various exhumations of his bones; that he would have been a leper, but never his name was found in the surveys because patients would have to be isolated, or bone disease or even syphilis; frequent exhibitions in which appear increasingly works attributed to him based on formal characteristics (stylemes); mediumship also joins this list of possibilities, making Aleijadinho has the broadest and most diverse literature of a Brazilian artist, confirming the interest in his work and his mythical.