Brazil Anonymous

Untitled (1750)

Polychrome wood
height: 80cm
width: 25cm

On loan from Ruby Reid Thompson


This figure of the naked, crucified Christ was probably made in southern Brazil in the later 18th century. It is more stylised, less naturalistic, than the processional figure of St Anthony (ESCALA 46-2002) suggesting a native craftsman following European models provided for him by the local missionaries. Figures like this were popular with missionaries throughout colonial Latin America: arranged into theatrical tableaux they served as vivid aids to conversion. Dramatic permanent examples of such tableaux are found in the seven chapels that line the route up to the pilgrimage church of Bom Jesus in Congonhas do Campo, Minas Gerais. Each of these chapels contains a full-size representation of one of the Stations of the Cross acted out by figures carved in polychrome wood by Brazil's greatest colonial artist Aleijadinho.

In this case the figure of Christ is articulated so that the pose can be altered to accord with different moments in the biblical narrative of the Passion – the Descent from the Cross, Lamentation, Entombment and Resurrection – and the theatricality is enhanced by the use of polychrome where the bare wood is covered with layers of gesso to create a smooth surface for the paint. Damage to the head indicates that depending on the narrative moment the figure would have worn a crown of thorns or a halo.

Valerie Fraser

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