O Aleijadinho (1978) - full transcript

A brief piece on one of the greatest Brazilian artists of all time, Antônio Francisco Lisboa, the Aleijadinho. An important representant of the Baroque period in Brazil, Aleijadinho was ...


Antônio Francisco Lisboa
was born in Ouro Prêto,

then called Vila Rica, in 1738.

The son of Manoel Francisco Lisboa,
carpenter and architect,

contractor and master
of the royal construction works.

According to the description of Joana,
the artist's daughter-in-law,

Antônio Francisco was a dark mulatto

with a strong voice, fast speech,

and a bad temper.

Until his 40s, he enjoyed good health.

He saw to it that he always had rich meals

and was regularly seen taking part
in popular dances and festivals.

Founded during the gold rush,

and having passed through
the initial settlement period,

Vila Rica was then in a phase
of prosperity and consolidation,

but didn't yet display the traits
that would later become so well known.

The Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao church
by Antônio Dias,

the important Rosário dos Pretos chapel
in Alto da Cruz

and the Igreja do Pilar
were just being completed,

and the whitewashed mud walls

contrasted with the luxurious
gold carving of the interiors.

That mid-century period was poised
on the eve of a new artistic flowering,

a true renaissance.

Despite the closure
enforced by the capital,

the ideas born of the Enlightenment
and the echo of revolutions

crossed over seas, mountains and valleys,

and finding favorable climes,
took root there

within the city limits of Vila Rica.

The Casa dos Governadores,

seen here in its early state
and as it is today,

overlooked a bustling and lively square

where poets and scholars coexisted,

as well as priests, students,
musicians, architects,

painters, sculptors
and masters of all trades.

The Palace and the Casa da Câmara,
today the Museum of the Inconfidência,

that would soon face each other
from across the square,

would witness the birth of civic awareness

and the growth of a desire for freedom

that Tiradentes, independentist martyr,
would embody in the end.

The tragic political outcome, however,

could not stop the outbreak
of artistic renovation

that preceded it by 40 years

with the chapel of Rosário de Mariana.

In a small fountain dating from 1757

and undertaken by his father,

we see the first marks
of the work of Antônio Francisco,

who never lacked qualified teachers.

The composition introduces
an innovative conception:

It opens out and projects itself
forwards simultaneously,

lending it a dynamic quality

despite its static fundamental structure.

The unexpected female bust
that tops the fountain

is also evidence of Antônio Francisco's
singular personality.

At the time, he was 19 years old.

Another work attributed to this period,

from 1760 to 1766

is the rosewood oratory in the sacristy
of the church of Nossa Senhora do Pilar,

in Ouro Prêto.

During this same period,

he also worked on the Matriz de Caeté

with José Coelho de Noronha.

Several isolated pieces
can be attributed to him.

One of the finest is this Saint Anne,

where with great sculptural refinement,

a serene sweetness is counterpoised
with the tension of premonition.

In 1766, his reputation
was well established.

So much so
that the Third Order of St. Francis,

a renowned brotherhood bringing together
the intellectuals of the time,

did not hesitate to entrust him
with designing their chapel.

The result of their confidence in him
was his architectural masterpiece:

The São Francisco de Assis church
in Ouro Prêto.

Splendidly complimented by the paintings
of Manuel da Costa Ataíde,

the church nevertheless
remained unfinished

missing the choir, the grates,
the lateral altars

and other elements that were added later
and do not rise to the same level.

In the pulpits, which Antônio Francisco
carved entirely from soapstone,

the integration of the dramatic
expressionism of the figures

into the elaborate
ornamental style of the period,

became a constant feature in his works,

characterized by a typical ardor.

Dating from the same period as the pulpit,

between 1771 and 1772,

is the portal of the Carmelite
church at Sabará,

immediately followed by that
of the Carmo in Ouro Prêto.

After the death of his father,
the original designer of the portal,

he adapted the architectural composition
to his personal style.

Returning to the Carmo of Sabará,

he designs an imposing gable

in the audacious Dom João V style.

Yet in the later sketches
for São Francisco in São João del Rei,

the gable features
the characteristic grace

of the Dom José or Louis XV styles.

It's possible that from São João del Rei

Antônio Francisco could have
continued onwards to Rio,

to visit the famous Carmelite portal,

brought from Lisbon in 1761.

Perhaps it was owing to this influence

that he fundamentally altered his design.

Upon his return
to São Francisco of Ouro Prêto,

he broke down the doorposts,
the door poles

and had the already-completed
windows removed

in order to place
above the Franciscan arms

the medallion of Our Lady,
topped by the royal crown.

That's how the Franciscan chapel
of Ouro Prêto

acquired its definitive appearance.

An unparalleled work

in which energy, strength, elegance
and delicacy come together,

endowing this architectural creation
with the pulse of life.

Back at Vila Rica,

he later completed the beautiful font
in the sacristy of the Carmo church.

Right after that, also in soapstone,

he makes the famous font
at the São Francisco church,

most likely a donation,

since there is no reference to any payment
in the books of the brotherhood.

A breathtaking masterpiece,

for it was during its long execution

that the disease surfaced
and deformed him.

He lost the use of his fingers and toes,

with the exception of his thumbs
and index fingers.

His face was disfigured,

which gave him,
according to his daughter-in-law,

a repulsive and sinister expression

that even gave a fright to whomever
unexpectedly came face to face with him.

Hence his bitter, sometimes choleric mood.

Already in 1777,

records mention two men
that he hired to carry him

and an official document states:

“So much of value
is housed within a sick body

that has to be carried around

and whose fists must be attached
to tools so he can work.”

He soon came to be known
as “O Aleijadinho”: “The Little Cripple.”

The disease only seems to increase
his devotion to work,

for his work swells and expands.

After having finished
the São Miguel e Almas church,

he returns to Carmo of Sabará

where he makes the elegant choir,

the grate, the wood pulpits
and two statues.

Afterwards, he starts working
on the fascinating Igreja do Rosário

in Santa Rita Durão.

Finally, he concentrates once again
on his masterpiece:

the São Francisco of Ouro Prêto church.

Then he makes the monumental
altarpiece of the main chapel,

a work of great precision and rigor,

sonorous and vibrant,
like a chant of glory.

Twenty years after his first visit,

he returns to São João del Rei

only to find his designs
incorrectly altered.

He continues to work daily.

Finally, he concentrates his efforts

on the Santuário of Nossa Senhora
de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos.

In Congonhas do Campo,

to undertake, already in his 60s,

the arduous task of depicting in life size

each step of the Passion of Christ.

And as if that weren't enough,
after a life entirely dedicated to art,

he plots out architecturally
the churchyard of the sanctuary.

And isolated on the hilltop,

he again faces
the tough blocks of bluish rock,

from which he gradually extracts,
without altering their consistence,

these biblical figures,

engraving in their gestures,
pedestals and faces,

their prophetic sentences.

Back in Ouro Prêto,

he continues working
on two lateral altars of Carmo.

Afterwards, his body deeply scarred,

bitter and lonely,

he lies for almost two years

on a platform of wooden planks
on top of two logs

where, in his slow death throes,
he begged the Lord

to rest His divine feet upon him.

The Little Cripple was restored
based on a complete interpositive,

created by the Centro Técnico Audiovisual.

The original negative
was damaged by mold.

The original sound negative
produced a positive,

used as the basis
of the sound restoration.

The original film sync was maintained.

Digital 2K restoration was completed
in São Paulo in May of 2005.