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Exploring the 12 Prophets of Aleijadinho: a 3D visit

The choice of image – or iconography – of the prophet has several references such as the images created since the beginning of Christianity – not as figurative bodies, but rather quoting their sentences – embodied by sculptures in the Middle Ages and in the Romanesque period. Before that, sculptures were little used in the Palaeochristian art. The relative proximity, the short time elapsed between the paganism that worshiped idols presented as sculptures, and a nascent Christianity, has made the choice of paintings and mosaic, devoid of materiality therefore bodily, was imposed against the sculptures of idolatry. After five hundred years, the distancing from the Roman world time added to the time of captivity of the Jewish people – Egypt and Mesopotamia – already considered the antiquity in the medieval world view – the imagery of the prophets was free to create conventions to be followed. In the doorways of Gothic cathedrals, kings David and Solomon are represented with the prophets, sitting on the right side of Christ. They have long hair and beards, phylacteries and headdresses – beret, turban, and hood – which thus constitute its iconography.

The historical distance can be expressed in the general configuration, soon perceived by the believer through the clothing: the tunic referring to the state of mystical spirit. Plastically, it followed a mix of drapingpainted or sculpted figures drapery with regard to wrinkles or curls of garments (in the prophets are comprised of long and short tunics and mantles that make up the volumetry in all faces). – folds of the tunics – imitating the lines of the Byzantine mosaics, of the strongest traits of Romanesque frescoes and, of the antiquity, the folds of the Roman robes. In the Middle Ages, the garment is very important because it is the first visual factor to distinguish the stratified social classes, which lasted for centuries. The cap or turban is a visual appeal used and agreed in the Middle Ages as a social and professional distinction. The crowned heads of the Kings, the helms of the warriors, the feathers and precious stones of women’s tiaras, and the turbans of the pilgrims, create a metaphor for each individual to be inserted in the social group. The prophet is a mystic and is far in the historical time – Old Testament – and geographical space – the Middle East. The tunic refers to stripping from material goods; the covered head, respect for the contact with the divine.

The prophet is stripped of his corporeality, as opposed to the emphasis on physical beauty of the Greek and Roman sculptures, and thus are arranged in the portals of Romanesque and Gothic churches. They are conferred the prerogative of the symbolic size, usual in the Byzantine mosaics and Romanesque frescoes. Their heights are comparable to those of the kings of Judea – who were also prophets – and they live in the circle of consecrated men, flanking the figure of Christ, an evidence that their prophecies have come true. Dividing their gestures between pointing to their words – usually on tapes with the written texts – and the emphasis of the spoken word during the exhortation, the church directed the artist sometimes in the scriptures and sometimes alternating the gestures – characteristic of the Baroqueartistic style of the seventeenth century and part of the eighteenth, during the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic reform and the absolutist policy; stylistically it is associated with forms in movement, dramatic expressions, intense color, shadows and lights. period. The written word is proof of the divine revelation and the speech (sermon) is the active temporal expression in a given period, renewed and accompanied by humanity.

The gestures and facial expressions confirm the depth of the prophetic words, showing the revealed truth. In art there is a whole gestural conventionality as strong as the attributessymbol, emblem or any element, in a sculpture, painting or engraving, used to identify particular saint (doors of the Franciscan and Carmelite churches with the scapular or stigmas). that serve to distinguish the holy characters. The primary fact of the prophet’s life is the spoken and then the written word. Accompanying the facial expression, the body posture confirms his message. After the clothing, the hand gestures are restrained, because in cathedrals the sculptures are arranged as columns in doorways and in confined spaces, interspersed with each other. The hands indicate the sacred texts carved on tapes – phylacteriesroll of parchment with sacred texts; (filactera) small box containing biblical texts written on parchment ballots; in the Middle Ages, ribbons inscribed with the sayings of the characters, in general saints; in the Modern Age, texts of sayings of the characters in comic books. – and these gestures extends the speech of exhortation. In these cases, the facial expression gain conventional reading elements, such as the beard to signify the wisdom of old age, the long hair confirming the deified character, and the lips sometimes just slightly parted, foreshadowing the speech.

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BAZIN, Germain
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