Soapstone in two blocks, 238 cm (1800-1805). Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Congonhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil (1757-1805).
Obadiah, considered a minor prophet because his book is short, with just one chapter. He predicted the destruction of the Edomite, a people who lived in Edom and had turned against the people of Judah. His name means the Servant of Yahweh or Worshipper of Yah. He lived during the Babylonian exile in 587 BC.
Positioned in the pinnacle of the churchyard, on the extreme point of the arch at the left side, his position allows a frontal view in the distance from the chapels of the Steps of the Passion – when closely approximated, on the back. One gets the feeling that the prophet will come out of the churchyard limits – which creates a certain imbalance by the gentle slope towards the interior of the churchyard – and raises his right arm as a last cry. He is elegantly theatrical, a rare moment in the expression of Aleijadinho’s baroque, that since his youth carved images with grandiloquent gestures – as the example of St. John the Evangelist in the Franciscan church of São João del Rey. His position combines with the gesture of the prophet Habakkuk, on the opposite side, appearing both in this solemn biblical scenario, praised by modernist Oswald de Andrade as the “Bible in soapstone plated with the gold of Minas Gerais”.
On the back, all lines of force are carried to a spot next to the hand that holds his brief words. Soon he moves with an opposite slope to the shoulder of the raised arm, and halfway creates a large X, crossing the mantle folds next to the empty left arm – that comes off the draping of the tunic. The fabric that comes out from underneath the cap has a sequence of V, with in-depth grooves that contrast with the hair that curls over his shoulder before collapsing on the front.
The frontal view can only be seen from the bottom up. The treatment of this sculpture could be subordinated to the rules of the altarpiece images, when one just have a view from the front.
It is an excellent workmanship because even from a distance by three of his sides, is of great development in the play of light and dark caused by the light that travels the complex draping with folds in the tunic over the left knee, creating a darker zone that rises to the right at the height of the waist, with the repoussé of the folds in the horizontal and with diagonal folds above the thigh. The visual weight of the figure – made to be seen from a distance – is given by the S-shaped folds on the side, and continues in the action of lifting the arm carrying the mantle. The finger wagging is an extreme baroque gesture, that is, it coincides with the climax of his prophetic words of destruction. The beardless face differs from that of the prophet Baruch because his cheekbone is deepened, as if struggling to say the last words when he stares at the unfaithful.
The right side, in the highest point, is dramatized by the fact that the raised arm creates a long vertical line that is virtually infinite. Not even the prominent spots, pointed in the mantle folds, can disrupt the complex plastic solution of an image to be seen and understood from three points of view.
In the cathedral of Orvieto, Italy, there is a fresco by Signorelli (1450-1523), with Obadiah wearing the bulky turban in the oriental style, with intense arm gestures. In the painting found at the Jesuit church of Quito, Ecuador, the prophet carries on his shoulders the words of the scriptures, while the background scene shows him walking with an amphora, aiding imprisoned prophets. Above, the space to which it directs his gaze, there is a temple restored with the people of God around it – thus fulfilling the prophecy of the restoration of Israel. A widespread model for the figures of the prophets was the Biblia Sacra Vulgate Editionis, 1731, edited by Niccolò Pezzana, from Venice, which had several editions, including the one found by Portuguese researcher José de Monterroso Teixeira, in the National Library in Rio de Janeiro. Therefore, this was the edition that circulated among the clergy at the time of Aleijadinho.
In Latin: VOS EGO IDU/MOEOS ET GENTES/ARGUO,VOBIS/NUNCIO LUCTUFI/CUM PROVIDUSINTERIUM/ABDIAS/CAP.1.
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