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(Sculptor: 1730? - 1814)
by Cristina Vaz
Translated by John D. Godinho
OH, HOW MANY POUNDS OF GOLD...
how many pounds of gold
first shipments of gold from Brazil begin arriving in Lisbon in the early
1700s. It’s the type of
wealth that can be felt.
Manuel Francisco Lisboa leaves Odivelas, a small town in Portugal, in search of a better life. His brother, António Francisco Pombal, has already gone to Brazil and is now awaiting his arrival. Surely, it will be much easier to move up from a position of mere artisan to that of master craftsman in a place that is growing so rapidly and where jobs are so plentiful.
Gold mining activities in Ouro Preto, which had begun in 1698, are now in full swing. And they will not come to a halt for a good many years. Then, in 1728, there is the discovery of diamonds. Of course, not everything extracted from the soil is sent to Portugal – after all, the locals are nobody’s fools...
Now the name of the place has to be changed. It is no longer Ouro Preto (literally, Black Gold). As of 1711, it will be known as Vila Rica (Wealthy Town). It’s a good place for Manuel Francisco to settle in.
He manages to obtain a carpenter’s permit in 1724. It’s one of the best, since it covers a number of professions, including that of blueprint draftsman. By 1730, he already holds the position of construction foreman. He works on such buildings as Casa da Câmara (City Hall), the Cadeia de Vila Rica (the local prison), as well as the main chapel of Castas Altas Church.
By now he has gained a certain amount of local prestige. He has his own workshop, with a number of employees and a few slaves. Among these, there is a girl named Isabel, of African origin, who will bear him a son. The date of the child’s birth is uncertain, as is the date of his christening, which is not surprising considering that the newborn was a bastard child, a “mullato.” Nevertheless, he is accepted by his father who gives him his own last name: António Francisco Lisboa.
In 1736, Manuel Francisco marries Antónia
Maria, from Funchal, in the Madeira Islands.
They have 4 sons; one of them becomes a priest.
As to António Francisco, he grows up as any other child in his
circumstances. At an early
age, he learns that he must fend for himself, since he has no rights of
inheritance. He spends his time in his father’s workshop, learning
everything he can about what’s done there – drawing, architectural
planning, ornamentation projects. He
seems to have a special attraction for sculpture and woodcarving.
It’s an occupation that might come in handy someday.
He also meets João Gomes Batista who had studied drawing and metal
engraving in Lisbon and is now working at the Vila Rica Foundry.
|WHO WILL BE LIFTED AND PURIFIED?|
Who will fall,
influence of the Inquisition is still quite strong in 18th
century Brazil. All new
arrivals from Portugal are very much aware of its presence – and so
everyone makes sure he displays his rosary beads in public...
number of priests in Vila Rica doesn’t stop growing – there are about
80 of them by 1750. After all,
there is a need to keep strict control over the regions of greater
affluence, since there is always the possibility of profiting from the
other fellow’s wealth. Generous
contributors can be redeemed from most any abuse or crime or sin.
Everything, or almost everything, can be forgiven in exchange for
gifts to the Almighty. The
Church is the center of the world.
good number of congregations and brotherhoods have sprung up to look out
for the interests of their members and offer them protection. But even in these organizations there’s a selection process.
In most of them only white men are allowed. And that means pure
white, without a trace of Jew, Moor or mullato.
For those excluded, there is the Arquiconfraria dos Mínimos do
Cordão de S. Francisco, a brotherhood that will, nevertheless, be
persecuted for the simple fact that it admits “dark-complected people”
among its members.
are the organizations that issue permits for the exercise of an occupation
spite of his background, António Francisco Lisboa manages to obtain a
“carpenter’s permit.” It
was worthwhile to have worked in his father’s shop.
Now he can do a number of jobs – he’ll never be short of work.
skills will be revealed through important commissions by two of the
brotherhoods of Vila Rica. The
first is the project for the church of the the Third Order of Mount Carmel
awarded to his father, Manuel Francisco;
the second, identical to the first, is granted by the Third Order
of St. Francis to António himself.
projects are well received and, in the Church of St. Francis, both in the
walls and in the pulpit, there is the clear imprint of an original artist
at work. A long sequence of
projects will follow.
art, so popular in 17th century Europe, is only now beginning
to make its presence felt in Brazil, especially through the activities of
the new arrivals from Portugal. But
in the tropics it takes on certain characteristics that make it different
from European Baroque, particularly in Minas Gerais, where there is so
Francisco’s work has its own style, in the architectural plans as well
as in the carvings and sculpture. It
is the reflection of an entire region, an image shaped by the hands of an
artist. The building façades are enriched, the walls are lined with
carvings. It comes close to the rococo style, with a touch of Minas
Lisboa dies in 1767. Two years later his son has his hands full. The commissions keep coming in.
The brotherhoods compete among themselves for his services – he
can now afford to do just what he likes most – to sculpt. Mostly, he uses soapstone.
He carves pulpits, religious figures, doors. He is now making good money and he knows just what to do with
is not attractive to women for marriage purposes – he’s short, fat and
mullato. But he has a son. Little is known about the boy’s mother, except that her
name is Narcisa and that she keeps taking António Francisco to court.
This, in spite of the fact that he acknowledges the son as his and
names him after his own father.
finds time for everything, for work and for play.
He likes a good night out on the town; he enjoys life.
Perhaps he will come to pay for sowing his wild oats.
He doesn’t miss a chance to have some fun, as when he makes a
figure of St. George, which, in fact, is the image of the assistant to the
governor who had commissioned the statue.
As a result, the people of Vila Rica had a good laugh, as expressed
in a popular ditty:
St. George over there,
TO SUFFER SO MUCH AND STILL HAVE NOTHING...
Aleijadinho adapts himself to his illness.
Lord, how is it possible
1777, António Francisco Lisboa begins to feel the first symptoms of his
illness. What is he suffering
from? Nobody seems to know
for sure...but he knows it’s serious.
There are several possibilities:
scurvy, syphilis, a viral infection that is going around...They all
appear to have a common source: the wild life he leads.
Some people say it is all due to his drinking cardina,
a beverage made of tropical leaves, to improve his artistic skills.
the reason, the fact is that, from 1777 on, he is no longer able to move
about without assistance. This
is clearly indicated in one of the receipts for payments made by the
Brotherhood of Our Lady of Mercy
and Pardons: it includes an amount paid to negro carriers who transported
him from site to site so he could supervise the projects in progress.
His illness will get worse as time goes by – slowly, painfully,
as if he were destined for martyrdom.
spite of it all, António Lisboa is well accepted by the community.
He has a body of work; he’s
well respected. And he is not
the type to expose himself.
his condition deteriorates, he sees his body become increasingly deformed
– first, his feet; later, his hands.
There are moments when he can’t bear the pain.
His despair is so great that he cuts off some of his fingers.
But worse things are yet to come: the tools of his trade, his hands,
are also becoming deformed.
ugliness has a companion now – his physical deformity.
There are those who find it hideous and António is aware of that.
He well remembers the day when a slave he had just bought tried to
commit suicide upon seeing his new master.
However, he and the slave will later become good friends.
Lisboa decides not to make his presence unwelcome. He avoids going outside during the day. If he must do so, he does it at dawn. And he wears clothes that cover his shoulders and a hat that
hides his head and face so people can’t see his sores.
He welcomes the absence of on-lookers as he works.
Any comments of praise are sometimes answered in a rude fashion.
It’s the doings of a disease that really hurts inside.
he has good moments lived in the company of his slaves – Januário,
Agostinho and Maurício. The
latter two will learn António’s art while giving him support in his
illness. Their master pays
them; they are his employees,
not his slaves. Januário, in
particular, becomes his means of transportation.
the year António falls ill, his only known son gets married. Little is known about the son, but António’s
daughter-in-law will be heard from later.
is a man whose looks have not been graced by nature, who fights his
illness by working, who projects religious devotion through his work and
who, very slowly, is becoming disfigured and crippled...He’s a figure
deserving of pity, as people are beginning to say.
It’s the voice of Portuguese sentimentality coming to the surface
– it’s compassion. Nobody calls him António Lisboa anymore. Now, he
is known as the Aleijadinho (pronounced:
a lay zha DEE’ nyo).
His real name will be generally forgotten.
That’s the price paid for the compassion received.
But it’s also the birth of a legend.
Lisboa is not a man to take advantage of this pity. He continues to work and adapts himself to his condition.
Some of his fingers are already gone, his legs have become useless.
He gets about on a donkey when he has to travel far
or rides on Januário’s back to cover short distances.
His appearances in public become rarer and he manages to continue
working with the help of his assistants.
The tools are tied to his hands and he works in spite of great pain.
In the meantime, his merits as an artist are receiving increased
recognition, as indicated by the resolution of the Third Order of Sabará,
dated November 25, 1781:
best way to assure the perfect execution of the work, and without any
modifications to the plans, is to contract the master and
the more capable workers. For
this reason, the Most Reverend High Commissioner and the members of the
committee have unanimously decided that only Master António Francisco
Lisboa and his workers can perform this mission to our complete
António Lisboa is not about to limit his activities and goals.
A bigger project awaits him.
DEATH IS BETTER THAN MISFORTUNE...
Death is better than misfortune...
Mendes had arrived in Brazil in the mid-1700s from Matosinhos, near the
city of Oporto, in Portugal. Like
many new arrivals, he wandered around looking for riches. Like so many others who had left northern Portugal, he took
his religious devotion with him. He
had left behind in his hometown a pretty church – Our Lord, the Good
Jesus of Matosinhos, with its chapels containing the Stations of the Cross.
the same time, there’s an importante sanctuary being built in Braga, in
the province of Minho, dedicated to Jesus. Great pilgrimages are already
beginning in Portugal...
day, Feliciano Mendes climbs up to the top of Maranhão Hill, near
Congonhas do Campo. There, at
the top, man is so much closer to God.
He decides to build a church on that spot dedicated to Our Lord,
the Good Jesus of Matosinhos. When
he dies, in 1761, the church is almost complete.
The religious services become widely known and the pilgrims keep
coming, leaving their alms and contributions, money that should be put to
good use. So, the brotherhood
decides to build an important sanctuary with a churchyard and its own
small chapels to house the Stations of the Cross.
And it will be built by a great artist.
1796, António Lisboa signs a contract for the statues for the sanctuary.
There will be about 60 of them. He’ll not be able to sculpt them
all but, at least, he’ll be able to supervise the work.
He will need a lot of workers.
It’s better to set up a shop at Congonhas.
For many of the workers, this will be a true school since, after
all, they’re working with a master.
The project will last several years.
front of the church there will be a churchyard to be named the Square of
the Prophets (there will be twelve).
António Francisco takes on the reponsibility of sculpting these
figures. They will not be
static. Rather, they will be arranged around the square as if they are
participating in an assembly. The
words will spring forth from them; they
are the great orators. António
Francisco infuses them with expression, with gestures, with forms and
specific characteristics. Their
feet are big (which some have interpreted as a synonym for strength).
Their hands show the bones underneath the skin and there’s a
strange-looking thumb, deformed, one might say. According to many, this is
a reflection of his illness, especially as one looks at a prophet and sees
it as António’s self-portrait.
addition to the prophets, Aleijadinho works on the Chapels of the Stations
of the Cross. There, he expresses the suffering of Chist. At this time,
António also suffers with the death of Agostinho Angola, who was far more
than a slave – he was a true friend.
Last Supper, in polychromed cedar wood, is imbued of such realism that
some passers-by will greet the figures as if they were real people.
exalted the faith and he showed his merits as an artist, but when he
leaves Congonhas do Campo he knows that his condition and his suffering
have become worse. Nevertheless,
he goes to Sabará, in Minas Gerais, to work on the main altar at the
Church of the Third Order. But
by now, as the accountants comment on the expenses for the work performed,
they call him “Aleijadinho.” He is no longer António Francisco.
They forget the master crafsman and pay attention only to the money.
1810, he is still working on the carvings of Vila Rica Church (Ouro
Preto), but this time the contract is awarded to Justino, his former
assistant. Now it’s the
teacher who works for the pupil. Aleijadinho’s
movements from place to place have become so difficult and painful that he
makes his home closer to the
work site. This will probably be his last job...and, to make matters worse,
a poorly paid one.
evening, Justino decides to visit his family in another town.
It will not be a short visit.
But Justino says nothing to Aleijadinho – simply leaves him to
fend for himself, even though he can no longer manage to live alone.
He is finally taken in by his daughter-in-law, Joana Araújo
Correia. She’s a midwife
– someone who helps people as they arrive in the world will also know
how to help them when they depart.
two years now, António Lisboa has not been able to get out of bed, much
less work. His eyesight is
gone. He talks to himself a
lot – about the good times, about the times that were not so good.
And, above all, he talks about Justino who betrayed him and never
returned to settle accounts. These
are things that cannot be forgiven when done by someone to whom so much
was given. For António, there remain his faith and the boards he uses for
will never leave him. But her
dedication is not enough to alleviate his suffering.
Francisco Lisboa dies on November 18, 1814, and is buried in the Church of
Our Lady of the Conception, in Ouro Preto.
He leaves nothing to his relatives, but he leaves a great deal to
(1) (Translator’s Note) The nickname
“Aleijadinho” has generally been translated literally as “The Little
Cripple.” This may be somewhat misleading since, in the Portuguese
language, the diminutive “...inho” (little) is often used to indicate
affection, endearment, or sympathy, rather than simply suggest or describe
mere size. Thus, António Francisco would probably still be called “Aleijadinho,”
even if he had been 6 feet tall.
Verses taken from Romanceiro da
Inconfidência, by Cecília Meireles.