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Home > Galleries > Gallery 14: Epigraphy of the Prophets of Congonhas

Gallery 14:
Epigraphy of the Prophets of Congonhas

The group of sculpted prophets of the Santuário do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, in the Brazilian municipality of Congonhas do Campo, in Minas Gerais, is one of the masterpieces of Antônio Francisco Lisboa, better known as O Aleijadinho. It is also an emblematic work of Luso-Brazilian art. Thus, much has been written about its iconography [1]. But little is known about its epigraphy — of which there is plenty.

Indeed, each one of the prophets sculpted by O Aleijadinho holds a scroll in which a Latin text has been carved. Each of these texts ends with a reference to the Holy Scriptures. But the texts of these scrolls are not the biblical passages corresponding to those references; they are only synthetic renderings thereof [2]. Where do these texts come from? A first step towards an answer to this question was taken by Santiago Sebastián, who observed that the text accompanying one of the prophets of Congonhas —Isaiah— was also found in a rare engraving by Carel van Mallery [3]. But Sebastián was not able to find the prints for the other eleven prophets. Or realize that the texts accompanying all of prophets of the series, were Latin dystichs penned by Cornelis van Kiel [4].

Cornelis van Kiel (Duffel 1528 – Antwerp 1607) was a Flemish lexicographer, linguist, translator and poet. In Antwerp he labored as an editor in the celebrated publishing house of Christophe Plantin. He was also the author of a comparative dictionary of Dutch (the Etymologicum Teutonicae Linguae) a reference work for more than two hundred years. With regard to his poems, they were rarely published on their own, appearing instead as explanatory texts to engraved illustrations of learned works [5]. We must therefore assume that the Latin dystichs composed by van Kiel reached O Aleijadinho as such.

I know of three series of engravings of prophets that incorporate the poems of van Kiel:

  • The first was a series of seventeen prophets of the Old Testament published by Philip Galle in 1594 with the title Icones prophetarum maiorum et minorum, veteris testamenti. The engravings composing this series were done after designs by Nicolas de Hoey, and were engraved by Karel van Mallery, Hans Collaert, and Pierre Perret. It was the Isaiah of this series that Sebastián discovered. The title page of the series asserts that the icones therein were explained with brief dystichs of Cornelio KIliano Dufflaeo. And the first and the last plate of the series even contain the signature Corn. Kil. Duffl [6].
  • The poems of van Kiel were published a second time in 1613 by Theodoor Galle, son of Philip Galle. This time, they accompanied 27 newly engraved prophets of the Old Testament. The engravings were designed by Jan van der Straet (also known as Giovanni Stradano) and engraved by Cornelis Galle I, another son of Philip Galle. This series bore the title Icones Prophetarum Veteris Testamenti. The 1613 series must have been very popular, as it was republished by Joannes Galle, son of Theodoor Galle and grandson of Philip Galle. The plates for this republication bear chapter-and-verse references to the Bible. As such, they constitute a second state of the plates of 1613. In this state, the plates were republished, once again, in 1784 —this time by Cornelis Spanoghe [7]. It should be noted that these chapter-and-verse citations do not match very well the ones found in the scrolls of the prophets of O Aleijadinho.
  • The third series of engravings of prophets incorporating van Kiel's poems was produced in Paris, where it was published by Jean Leclerc IV. It consists of copies of the popular 1613 series, but without the Biblical references. The engravings in it were opened by Jean Leclerc V —son of the publisher— by Ferdinand van Etten, and by Jean de Courbes [8].

The table below compares the texts of the three distinct engraved series —as far as we know them— with the texts in the scrolls of the prophets of Congonhas. To facilitate these comparisons we have highlighted the differences among the engraved series (and seen how they fare against the texts of O Aleijadinho). As the reader will be able to verify, the texts of the prophets of Congonhas reproduce the orthographic idiosyncrasies of the series published by Cornelis Galle; not those of Philip Galle or Jean Leclerc IV. The series published by Cornelis Galle, and only the series published by Cornelis Galle, developed orthographic mutations that were then inherited by O Aleijadinho.

It should be emphasized that the correspondences argued for here pertain only to the texts, not to the images. What sources —if any— were employed by O Aleijadinho for the representations of his prophets remains an open question.



[1] Guiomar de Grammont (2011) "Les mystères du sanctuaire de Congonhas". L'Atelier du Centre de recherches historiques. Available online at Myriam Andrade Ribeiro de Oliveira (2016) O Aleijadinho e o Santuário de Congonhas [= Roteiros de Patrimônio, 1]. Brasilia, IPHAN/Programa Monumenta.

[2]  Bazin, Germain (1971) O Aleijadinho e a escultura barroca no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Record.

[3] Sebastián, Santiago (1983) "O programa iconográfico de Congonhas do Campo: integração do Brasil na espiritualidade da Contra-Reforma." Barroco (Belo Horizonte) 12: 259-267.

[4] Lode van den Branden et al. (1978) Bio-bibliografie van Cornelis Kiliaan [= Bibliotheca Bibliographica Neerlandica, Volume XI]. Nieeuwkoop, B. de Graaf, pp. 166-167.

[5] Max Rooses (1880) Kilianus. Latijnsche gedichten. Antwerp, P. Kockx.

[6] Lode van den Branden et al. 1978, 166-167. This series can be viewed online in the Rijksmuseum excellent website.

[7] These engravings illustrated a Dutch book published in Antwerp and titled Aldernouwkeurigste Verhandelinge der Geschiedenissen van het Oud Testament. It can be consulted online via Google Books. I am indebted to Rubem Amaral Jr. for bringing this book to my attention.

[8] Here we follow the description of a copy sold by the Antiquariat Thomas Rezek in Münich (Zentralisches Verzeichnis Antiquarischer Bücher, The New York Public Library holds an incomplete set consisting of plates 4, 8, 9, 16. All of them are signed Ferdinant van (or de) Etten. See also the New Hollstein Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts 1450-1700, Vol. 18, Part 1, p. 10. The Leclerc edition is furthermore described as #74 of the Catalogue de la Bibliothèque de M. van der Helle. Paris: Librairies Bachelin-Deflorenne, 1868.