Saturday, December 19, 1998
By Illa Vij
IN Brazil, a small mining town stands domineered by giant-sized carvings of stone. Twelve Old Testament prophets and beautifully sculptured churches remind the world of the handicapped carver, Aleijadinho. In Portuguese "O Aleijadinho" means "The little cripple". His original name was Antonio Francisco Lisboa. He was born in 1738 in Ouro Preto a mining town in Brazil. His father was a Portuguese and mother a Negro slave. As a child, he read the Bible but details of his formal education are not known. He was dark, stocky, with unusual features and was quite unpleasant to look at. But God bestowed on him an unmatched talent, which was to make his name immortal, in the field of art.
As a child, Lisboa could make beautiful sketches of churches. His father, seeing his inclination towards art, encouraged him to make carvings out of wood and stone and learn architecture. When Lisboa was in his late twenties, he lost his father who had been designing an important church. Lisboa completed his fathers incomplete work and gained instant recognition as a leading architect and sculptor. In those days, large amounts of gold and diamonds were being mined. The city was shipping out enormous amount of gold and beaten gold was used for decorating the interiors of churches. Fine sculptures further beautified the breathtaking places of worship.
During the day, Lisboa designed and carved altars, while in the evenings, he indulged in drinking and merry-making. Unfortunately, at the age of 35, he was struck by a peculiar disease, which could not be identified. Some said it was leprosy, some called it scurvy, while others felt it was a complicated case of rheumatoid arthritis. Lisboa was unable to move his legs, and his hands and toes got disfigured, causing him immense pain. Pain and disfigurement isolated him socially but he did not stop working.
Building Gods houses became a passion with him as his body got more and more disfigured. He put a tent around himself and worked, hidden from the eyes of others. It was during this time of his life that he was named Aleijadinho. His health worsened, but he continued to work determinedly. He had to walk around on leather knee caps and later he had to be even carried around and lifted to certain heights to carry out his work. He bought a man servant, Januario, who helped him move around. When his hands could not grasp the tools, they had to be tied to his disfigured hands. He also trained two assistants, who worked along with him. At the age of 60, Lisboa was in a very bad shape, but he had the courage to begin his most famous works "Stations of the Cross" and "The Terrace of Prophets". He carved 12 Old Testament prophets in stone, all about eight feet tall. These figures stand on the terrace of the church of Bom Jesus de Matozinhos. For the same church, he also made 66 life-sized wooden figures, representing the last stages of Christs life on earth.
Aleijadinhos efforts and determination gave Brazil its greatest masterpieces of religious art. He worked against all odds, but did not let his art die. Even with mutilated hands, he carved out a treasure which Brazil is proud of. He died in 1814, at the age of 76. He was buried in one of the churches designed by his father.
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