Aleijadhino – Brazil Barocco Master

The most frequently recurrent name in Brazilian architecture of the eighteenth century is that of Aleijadinho, a mixed-race (“mulatto”) sculptor who defined High Baroque in that country both as a designer and sculptor – and also as the builder of military fortresses. While talking with my Brazilian friends my enthusiasm for his work and his career rose to such a pitch that I was invited to lecture on the subject in the future – a challenge I had better turn down.

Antônio Francisco Lisboa - "Aleijadinho"  (?1730-1814)

Antônio Francisco Lisboa – “Aleijadinho” (?1730-1814)

My idea went on two legs, first that the Baroque with its famous “superfoetation”, is largely due to the encounter with South American nature and its corresponding efflorescence of forms and colours. I think I recently read the case made that the exploration of Brazil was indeed a seminal influence but I have not been able to retrace the source. It is known in any case that ‘barroca” is a Portuguese word, though its application to the art-style of that name is a little more oblique than the etymology suggests of its own accord.

Baroque is usually defined in terms of the reduplication of forms which seems to be a central trope to the architectural style. (The idea of motion connected with the Laocoon of classical times is another element in the mix.) At the same time, the style evinces a tendency towards pure form and, in the case of Aleijadinho (fl.1790) it approximates in certain passages to Cubism – to my eye, at least. I am thinking here of the folds in the garments worn by his 12 prophets in Congonhas. This is the second leg of my conjecture – and I wonder if there is anyone out there who can quickly tell me to desist, shut up and give over before I make an utter fool of myself.

The Great Cashew Tree in Pirangi (Rio do Norte)

The Great Cashew Tree in Pirangi (Rio do Norte)

Can Cubism be related in any significant way – formally or historically – with the curlicues of baroque? What I have seen in the folds of garments carved in stone on saints and madonnas in Brazil suggests the answer, Yes. If I give the lecture, it will have to be in Portuguese – or, rather, my own crypto-Portuguese. I am thinking of a title such as “Barroco brasileiro: o cristianismo e na floresta”. Yes, the Counter-Reformation, but where did all that sheer excess come from – way beyond the vineyards of Tuscany or even the oases of Morocco. I’m thinking neo-classical acanthus into baroque pineapple … and that is not to mention the intrinsically barroco splendours of the full-blown “Caju” tree (one of the wonders of the Garden of Eden …

5 January 2015

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