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Exploring the 12 Prophets of Aleijadinho: a 3D visit

Prophet is someone who speaks in the name of, in front of, or in advance. They are men inspired and sent by God to proclaim his message and will.

The Jewish and biblical traditions record both the prophets with their prophecies or oracles, and histories in two groups: the earlier and later prophets; those with writings and those without writings; or the Major and Minor prophets.

The Major Prophets represented by Aleijadinho are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets represented by Aleijadinho are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Baruch.

There are many other prophets of the Old and New Testaments. Of the latter, there are John the Baptist, Zechariah, Ana (prophetess), and Christ himself. From this point of view, they are the pre-figures of the Apostles. After the resurrection of Christ, the prophets are those who interpret the will of God and exhort the believers to build a community against the false prophets, that is, those who in their own names.

Practically all religions have their prophets.

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The prophets appeared in medieval iconography in doorways and stained glass windows of cathedrals. In Chartres, France, the Major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are represented carrying the four evangelists of the New Testament – John, Mark, Luke and Matthew – on their backs. The entire medieval art makes the union between the two periods – Old and New Testaments – in which the characters live in eternal union. In the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the ancient kings of the Jewish tribes mingle with prophets, evangelists and scenes of the coming Messiah.

In terms of numbers, the four Major prophets correspond to the four evangelists. The 12 Minor Prophets correspond to the twelve apostles. This union of the Old and New Testament is in the iconography of the sanctuary. The reading begins by what is closest, that is, the New Testament with the Twelve Apostles in the Chapel of the Last Supper. The sixteen prophets together correspond to the sum of the twelve apostles with the four evangelists.

The position of the prophets on the sanctuary’s staircases corresponds to their entry into the Vulgate, Bible established by St Jerome: Baruch, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum and Habakkuk.

The position of the four Major Prophets – Isaiah and Jeremiah at the entrance gate, Ezekiel in the intermediate position, and Daniel at the top of the churchyardusually closed courtyard in front or around the churches (Prophets of Congonhas and St. Francis of Ouro Preto). nearest the door.

Baruch is placed instead of Micah, no one knows why for sure. But as secretary of Ezekiel, they are both on the same plane.

The Minor Prophets are placed in a zigzag line and all on the same plane: Hosea and Joel, Amos and Obadiah on the opposite side, the line goes to the bottom with Jonah that crosses the staircase in a position corresponding to Nahum, and ending with Habakkuk. They can also be grouped by proximity: Hosea with Joel, Amos with Obadiah, Nahum with Habakkuk. The two long diagonal lines crossing the stairs: Joel with Amos and Jonah with Nahum.

The overall iconography of the Sacred Mount presents the Stepssmall chapel which houses sculptures or paintings depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ (chapels of the Steps of the Passion in Congonhas with the 64 sculptures). of the Passion, death and resurrection. In Congonhas, the steps are below, the prophets on the center, and the passion above, within the church in the main altarpieceornamental structure of stone or woodwork that rises on the back of the altar; generally according to the following classification: Jesuit or Mannerist (early seventeenth century); Portuguese national (1680-1720); Joanine (1720-1760); Rococo (1760-1816); and neoclassical (nineteenth century). His most important altarpiece is in the Church of St. Francis of Ouro Preto; drawings of São João del Rey and Carmo de Sabará.. But below the choir begins with the Old Testament figures who are members of the holy family – those of Jesse Tree – continues with scenes of Virgin Mary, Annunciation, Birth of Christ and his miracles during his life as a prophet, the promised Messiah that was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament.

The scenes of the Passion, as well as of the Nativity, were staged during the Middle Ages both in temples and in public squares. The prophets have always been remembered with their scriptures announcing the coming of the Savior. If at the bottom of the steps of the Passion we have the dramatization by means of the 66 figures carved in cedar, as it was done in the medieval Holy Weeks, the prophets are also called for this dramatization with regard to the Advent or Christmas.

The exotic Turkish-style garb were explained by Robert Smith and Germain Bazin. The turbans are from those dreaded peoples of the Middle East and are the closest to Europe, sharpening the imagination of artists with the damask-pattern clothing and garments. The models were disseminated by the publications of Flemish recorders and spread through Europe and the Americas. At that time of the Baroque style, it was common, which is proven by Rembrandt’s paintings, that the ancient patriarchs and prophets were often painted, and contemporary people were clothed with rich turbans and extravagant clothing to compose the paintings. In Portugal the influence can also be felt by the broad trade and exchanges with the Netherlands, where the adoption of the Flemish models by the court of King Manuel I was intense. These characters of the ancient world entered the nativity figures with the Magi, who came from distant and ancient East, and believed in the voices which announced the coming of the Messiah. Bazin researched the clothes of each of the prophets, which is discussed below:

Sybils – are women who have the gift of prophecy. They are mythical beings from Asia Minor and entered the Greek and Roman cultures. The Pythia was the priestess of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, who foresaw the future. Ten Sibyls were recognized in the antiquity. Later the Church conjugates their prophecies with the coming of Christ. St. Augustine understood that they belonged to paganism, but their oracles had functions similar to the Old Testament prophets who deciphered the annunciation and coming of Christ to earth. They predicted the coming of the Messiah to the Jews.

In the medieval world, they were represented as messengers of Christ’s coming in the pagan world. They were represented in the Siena Cathedral floor and even in the Renaissance, at the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo.

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BAZIN, Germain
Aleijadinho e a Escultura. Rio de Janeiro : Record, 1971.

Dicionário de Simbolos. Rio de Janeiro : Ed. José Olympio, 1990.

Diccionario Teológico Manual del Antiguo Testamento. Madrid : Ed. Cristandad, 1978.

OLIVEIRA, Myriam Andrade Ribeiro.
Aleijadinho : Passos e Profetas. Belo Horizonte: Editoras Itatiaia/EDUSP,1984.

SANCHÉZ, Tomás Parra. Dicionário da Bíblia.
Aparecida : Editora Santuário, 1997.

TEIXEIRA, José de Monterroso.
Aleijadinho, o teatro da fé. São Paulo : Metalivros, 2007.