Antônio Francisco Lisboa was born in 1738, some say 1730, in what is now Ouro Preto, a small town tucked away in the mountains of Minas Gerais.
His father, Manoel, was a Portuguese immigrant; his mother, an African slave. In those days, and it that place, architects were in short supply. Manoel, although only trained as a carpenter, soon found himself designing public buildings and churches. It was from him that his son learned the rudiments of design and sculpture. And, in all of his life, Antonio never had training from anyone more skilled than that simple carpenter.
At an early age he began to receive commissions of his own.
This, the Chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi is one of his early works. In the course of the construction, he executed some remarkable woodcarvings on the outside of the building.
The most notable is this one, St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Amazing, huh? That a guy like that, with so little formal training was capable of doing what he did? Well, you haven’t heard the half of it. Here’s an even more amazing part of his story. A short time thereafter, he contracted leprosy, giving rise to the nickname by which he’s known by most Brazilians: Aleijadino. It means “little lamed one” (or “little cripple”). As the disease progressed, he lost his fingers. Did it stop him? No! He had his servants strap a mallet to what remained of one hand, a chisel to what remained of the other - and kept on carving. Time went by, and he lost his feet as well. Did that stop him? Again, no!. He had pads strapped to his knees so he could climb ladders and work on his statues. He became more and more of a recluse, working mostly at night.
On the few occasions upon which he left his house in daylight, he’d have his servants carry him through the streets of Ouro Preto in a curtained palanquin.
His greatest works, almost twice the height of an average man are the twelve apostles at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus of Matosinhos in the nearby town of Congonhas.
He carved them between 1800 and 1805, in soapstone.
They were arranged around the courtyard and stairway in front of the church. Aleijadinho died in 1814 at the age of 76 (or maybe 84)
but not before carving many other masterpieces in wood as well as stone.
The church at Congonhas has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.
But Aleijadinho continues to be largely unknown outside of his native country.