Artist

Ex-votos

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Ex votos
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Feet
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Biography

In Brazil, there are many different crafts made and absorbed by the same segment of the regional or local population. There they all have a shared knowledge of their significance. In this case, they are the ex-votos or “miracles” of the north-eastern backlands, for centuries modeled in clay or carved in wood, an expression of faith for the grace received from a Catholic saint. The promise, the vow is then fulfilled and provides evidence of the miracle, the ex-voto, in all shapes and sizes. In general, who pays the promise fulfills his or her vow on a pilgrimage. We can mention São Francisco das Chagas from Canindé and Juazeiro do Norte, both in the Ceará state Bom Jesus da Lapa, Bahia state, Círio de Nazaré, Pará state, Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Minas Gerais state, Aparecida do Norte, São Paulo, as some of the largest pilgrim centers in Brazil where this practice is commom. There the institutional action of the Catholic Church can be seen as an organizer of formal ceremonies that traditionally are an essencial part of these rituals (masses, novenas, confessions, comunions). Alongside them, however, are the ways in which the common people present them, which generally take the form of direct communication with the patron saint without the priest’s intermediation. In the Northeast, this is evident in the numerous letters written to the saint and placed in the church of its invocation, and the payment of promises in different ways, such as carrying stones on their heads as they follow the Stations of the Cross and processions, fulfilling vows in the form of music sung in the Hall of Miracles, cutting hair, wearing and offering “mortalhas” (sacred habits) to the patron saint, as well as figures modeled in clay or carved in wood. And also submitting photographs, jewelry, corn husks, hair, eyeglasses, wheelchairs, crutches, graduation diplomas, school books, pieces of lace, letters, flowers, ships, plaques with inscriptions, baby bottles, candles, wedding dresses, large pilgrimage crosses, in short, and endless variety of objects corresponding to the many different kinds of situation experienced by the devout. The pilgrim of all ages, men and women, go long distances on foot, or ride on trucks, very often have their portraits taken by the photographers that follow the pilgrims’ route, to enable the faithful to offer the photo to the saint, also as an ex-voto. In Southeast Brazil this practice has already practically substituted the painted or carved miracle, together with wax objects, shaped in series, reproducing parts of human body.

The girl who has her photo taken beside a sheep in Canindé, ordered by the family, will offer the animal to St. Francis to fulfill a promise. It is also common to submit no mandatory ex-votos in the small country-sides chapels or shrines built in the vastness of the backlands.
In the State of Bahia, the famous festival of Senhor do Bonfim is held in its church in the city of Salvador. The church was built on Itapagipe Hill in the 18th century to house the miracle-working figure of Christ on the Cross brought from Portugal in 1745. Since then, it has become one of the most popular religious centers in the state, and includes African-Brazilian rituals in its festivities. In Riscadores de Milagres (1967), Clarival do Prado Valladares studies the church’s constant incoming ex-votos, carved or in silverwork, or painted votive plaques, a practice that was common until the 20th century. Mention should be given to the role of João Duarte da Silva (1860-1935) in votive plaques. He was a barber and riscador de milagres (miracle sketcher) and nicknamed João Pinguelinho, living in Taboão, the center of popular art production in Salvador. Among other activities, João Pinguelinho would sign his painted ex-votos, by the pseudonym of Toilette de Flora, and would keep up-to-date the centuries-old tradition of the painted miracles relating to rescue from shipwrecks.

In Southeast Brazil, in Aparecida do Norte, Bom Jesus do Matosinhos, and other pilgrimage centers, many painted ex-votos were made in the 20th century. Dating from 1900 is an example of the miracle made by the boy Godofredo, who had swallowed a nail, and in 1922, for example, the continuity of earlier centuries of the miraculous facts relating to occupational accidents: Davi Ramalho is grateful for being cured and shows the actual machine that injured him, now in full industrial context.

Notwithstanding the beauty and great interest of the painted ex-votos for history of art and cultural studies in Brazil, from the view-point of visual creation, it is unique in the 20th century Western world the original synthesis offered by the known variety of Northeastern ex-votos shaped in clay and wood. From the endless plastic invention, these sculptures of faith by anonymous artists in the backlands of Northeast Brazil, or accosionally by artists such as Vitalino, and Master Dezinho, for example – for no payment, since it was a vow – were displayed in exhibitions in Brazilian museums during the 20th century, and in the art galleries and cultural foundations in Europe and the USA.

Little Dictionary of the Brazilian People’s Art – 20th Century, by anthropologist and poet Lélia Coelho Frota




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