Lisboa, Antônio Francisco

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Lisboa, AntÔnio Francisco

c. 1738
November 18, 1814

Born in Vila Rica (now Ouro Prêto), Minas Gerias, Brazil, Antônio Francisco Lisboa, the illegitimate son of Manuel Francisco Lisboa, a Portuguese architect and master carpenter, and his African slave Isabel, was an architect, sculptor, and wood carver. Lisboa is considered the most notable artist of the colonial period in Brazil. His biography has often been mythologized in twentieth-century Brazilian history and used to solidify an artistic national heritage. Between 1796 and 1804, working primarily in wood and soapstone, the mulatto artist created an extraordinary number of baroque sculptures. Lisboa apprenticed in the workshops of his father, his uncle Antonio Francisco Pombal, and the draftsman João Gomes Batista of the Lisbon Mint. All of these European artists resided in the prosperous Captaincy of Minas Gerais in the early eighteenth century, at the height of the Brazilian gold boom. Master Lisboa never left Brazil and, according to documentary sources, only made one trip to Rio de Janeiro to resolve a paternity suit. His relative isolation makes it all the more extraordinary that he adapted refined German and French rococo forms and styles in his sculptural and decorative works. His knowledge of European styles probably came from theoretical architectural treatises and ornamental engravings. Southern Germanic religious prints, particularly those by the Augsburg-based Klauber brothers, influenced Lisboa's artistic oeuvre.

At a young age, Lisboa became one of the most respected artists of the Captaincy, producing his first works in wood and stone at fourteen, and working until his death. His fame only increased with the onset of an unidentifiable disease (possibly leprosy, syphilis, or viral influenza) around the age of forty. In response to his condition, which led to the progressive deformation of his

limbs, he was nicknamed O Aleijadinho ("the little cripple"). The disease caused him intense suffering, although he was able to keep the use of his thumbs and index fingers, essential for the more precise movements of sculpting. Nonetheless, Lisboa had an extremely prolific career and produced the majority of his documented work after the onset of the disease.

The vast majority of Lisboa's architectural and sculptural works are located in the Minas Gerais cities of Ouro Prêto, São João del Rei, Sabará and Cogonhas do Campo. Many of his statues are now in Brazilian museums (São Paulo, Museu de Arte Sacra; Ouro Prêto, Museu de Inconfidência) and religious centers, as well as in private collections.

Lisboa received most of his commissions in the 1770s, immediately before the onset of his disease. His first large-scale work in soapstone was for the portal of the Church of Carmo of Sabará in 1770. In the 1780s he completed the internal ornamentation for the church. The Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Ouro Prêto, another important commission, most thoroughly embodies Lisboa's architectural and ornamentational concepts. His highly original architectural design combines a Portuguese mannerist rectangular church with a curvilinear plan after Francesco Borromini. The prestige and success of this project led to many more architectural commissions.

Lisboa's most important sculptural legacy lies in the pilgrimage church of Bom Jesus de Matozinhos, Congonhas do Campo. Aleijadinho and his assistants sculpted a total of sixty-six life-size figures of Christ's Passion (17961799). These sculptures stand in six chapels forming the Via Sacra, or Way of the Cross, ending on a sacred hill. At the top of the hill lie twelve life-size soapstone sculptures of the Old Testament prophets (18001805). The ensemble of statues is emotionally evocative in the tradition of medieval religious drama, allowing worshipers to participate in the staging of sacred theater as they climb the stairway and view the sculptures from varying angles.

Called "the new Praxiteles" by his fellow artists, Lisboa died in Vila Rica at the age of seventy-six, having never accumulated great wealth or social prestige.

See also Painting and Sculpture


Bazin, Germain. L'Architecture religieuse baroque au Brésil, 2 vols. São Paulo, Brazil: Museu de Arte, 19561958. (catalogue raisonné)

Ribeiro de Oliveira, Myriam Andrade. O Aleijandinho e sua oficina. São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Capivara, 2002. (in Portuguese and English)

amy j. buono (2005)