Monday, May 3, 2010


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. 

Leighton – Monday


  1. Hi Leighton,

    OMG! What an amazing person and artist!!!
    Great story.

  2. What a remarkable person. Thanks, Leighton. I think it is time to visit Brazil and see all these wonders you write so eloquently about.


  3. I have always been annoyed by Renaissance religious art that depicts Christ as willowy and somewhat effete. The Holy Grail myth, that Jesus used a gold, jewel-encrusted cup at the Last Supper, denies the teachings in the New Testament and ignores the first thirty years of His physical life on earth. He was a carpenter, a trade that required physical strength and stamina.

    I particularly like the statue of Christ carrying the cross. Aleijadinho fell into the willowy trap but redeemed himself by giving Jesus working man's hands. The hands are large and the palms look calloused, closer to the reality of His life before His public ministry.

    In Rome, I discovered Bernini. Aleijadinho did what Bernini did, giving the apostles distinct faces, giving them personalities.

    The most extraordinary of the Bernini sculptures, I think, is the "Rape of Proserpina" in the Galleria Borghese. Bernini made marble look like living flesh as Pluto's fingers dig into Proserpina as she tries to escape the god of the underworld.

    It is unfortunate that the Church has not taken under its care Aleijadinho's work as it did Bernini's.


  4. Leighton..Great story.and Thanks for all the details ..Pictures are a wonderful perk..Susan Vermont

  5. Aleijadinho’s work bears a striking similarity to the cover illustration on your first book, “Blood of the Wicked”.
    Same artist?

  6. CWit,
    I was waiting to see if anyone would notice that.
    And you did!
    You are quite right.
    The woodcut on the cover of BLOOD OF THE WICKED is, indeed, by Aleijadinho.

  7. Hi Leighton-

    Please give my warmest wishes to Eide for a Happy Mother's Day.

  8. Yeah people, come to Brazil. But do not say anything bad about our Favelas and our culture ok??!!
    PS: I'm 12 years old and I'm from Brazil.
    PS again: When I say this it does not me that is directly to you people.
    Tchau Tchau--Transl--Bye Bye