Ouro Preto and the Michelangelo of Brazil

Ouro Preto, Brazil was once a mining center. Today it is known for its Baroque arhitecture and an incredible artist names Aleijadinho. Photo: Tiradentes Square at daybreak Photo: Brazil Tourism

OURO PRETO, BRAZIL,June 29, 2013 – Florence, Italy had Michelangelo. And Ouro Preto, Brazil has a sculptor and architect by the name of Aleijadinho. Both were geniuses. Although Aleijadinho is largely unknown to most of the world, he was, in his own way, even more accomplished than his Italian counterpart.

Classic Baroque architecture

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Antonio Francisco Lisboa was born in Ouro Preto sometime during the 1730s. That actual date is not certain. Antonio’s mother was an African slave.

His father was an immigrant carpenter from Brazil who was so skilled at his craft that he became the most highly regarded architect in the region.

As an apprentice to his father, young Antonio began working as a day laborer on the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in Ouro Preto. Before long, he had achieved notoriety in his own right by designing the Chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi.

Not only did he create the building, Lisboa also sculpted the exterior carvings, including a bas-relief of St. Francis receiving the stigmata.

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In 1777, when he was in his 40s, Antonio’s career was gradually altered by a debilitating disease from which he never recovered. Most experts believe it was leprosy, but others suggest it could have been scleroderma.

Sculpture by the Little Cripple

Either way, Lisboa’s body deteriorated to the extent that he became disfigured and disabled. Before long the disease even cost him his fingers.

Despite his physical impairments, Antonio continued to sculpt using a hammer and chisel that were strapped to his hands by his assistants.

Eventually the artist became increasingly despondent and reclusive. So horrified was he by his disfigurement that he worked only at night.

If he did go out in public, he was carried in a covered palanquin. To the citizens of Our Preto, no longer was he Antonio Lisboa. Now he was known as Aleijadinho, “the Little Cripple.”

Aleijadinho’s home village was a thriving, prosperous community during the Golden Age of Brazil in the late 17th and much of the 18th centuries. T

he name Ouro Preto means “black gold” in Portuguese, and the city was created by an influx of thousands of fortune seeking soldiers who flocked to the region. Soon after came artisans and architects who created outstanding Baroque churches as well as exquisite fountains and bridges.

Hills of Ouro Preto

Situated on a series of tall hills, Ouro Preto features 13 spectacular Baroque churches that dominate the cyclorama of the city.

Ultimately, all of the roads diverge into Tiradentes Square — the cultural focal point of the city from which everything radiates. The square is surrounded by imposing public and private buildings that rise from cobblestone streets to gaze at the panoramic vistas.

Here, wrought iron balconies overlook steep ancient streets extending beneath the pastel colors of Baroque architecture and art.

Rapidly moving clouds sweep across the hills painting a continuous array of rainbow images.

One hill can be bathed in brilliant sunshine, while another darkens under carbon-like thunderheads and still others shimmer among a kaleidoscope of darkness and light.

Church interior, Ouro Preto

 It is impossible to turn in any direction without witnessing the stunning beauty of Ouro Preto’s baker’s dozen of churches.

Because of its mining potential and gold, Ouro Preto was once the capital of the state of Mina Gerais.

Located roughly 300 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, even today the city retains much of its 18th century character with horse and mule drawn wooden carts.

Peasant women walk the streets with bundles of laundry balanced on their heads.

This was the world of Aleijadinho who perhaps saved his crowing achievement until the end of his life though he was then at the height of his suffering.

Commissioned by a wealthy businessman who built the Sanctuary of Born Jesus of Matosinhos at Congohas, the Little Cripple created a series of small sculpted scenes to honor the Twelve Prophets.

Sanctuary of Born Jesus of Matosinhos at Congohas

Each scene is housed in its own miniature building, six on each side of the courtyard that leads to the entrance of the church.

Even for a healthy artist, each work would be an amazing accomplishment by itself.

By this time in Aleijadinho’s life however, he had neither his hands nor his feet. Pads were strapped to his knees, enabling him to climb the ladder that reached his creations.

Ouro Preto is an undiscovered secret for many travelers, but the story of Brazil’s Little Cripple, his determination to create and the magnitude of his achievements are worth their weight in gold.

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About the Author: Peabod is Bob Taylor a veteran travel writer for more than three decades. His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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