Throughout the late eighteenth century, many Brazilians became inspired by the political revolutions of the French and American colonies and sought for a similar type of revolution, hoping to gain independence from the Portuguese. One nationalistic group, the "Inconfidência Mineira," probably influenced the art of the sculptor Aleijadinho (1738-1814). Aleijadinho's work has been examined as a political message previously, but never as propaganda through the representation of capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. Capoeira probably formed as a means for Afro-Brazilian slaves to fight their way out of captivity. While training to fight, slaves would disguise capoeira to look like a dance, so that slave owners would not suspect rebellion. Through the visual representation of capoeira, Aleijadinho's statues of twelve Old Testament prophets at the sanctuary Bom Jesus dos Matozinhos express a call for liberation, not only liberation for African slaves, but also for Brazilian colonists under Portuguese rule. This study examines the circumstances that may have contributed to the influence of capoeira in the Prophets. Being a mulatto, Aleijadinho's ancestral connections to the Afro-Brazilian community likely contributed to the sculptor's exposure to capoeira. In addition, the rise and fall of the rebel group, "The Inconfidência Mineira" took place in Aleijadinho's home town at this time. This study examines how Aleijadinho may have been associated with rebel sympathizers and how the execution of the rebel leader, Tiradentes, could have affected Aleijadinho's art. The argument for capoeira also includes a discussion of the martial art's origins and the history of slavery in Minas Gerais, Aleijadinho's home state. The comparative method is used to support the argument for capoeira in the Prophets' composition and gestures. By interpreting these gestures as belonging to capoeira, this argument refutes previous interpretations that the Prophets were influenced by ballet and other forms of dance. This study concludes with an exploration of how the Prophets can be interpreted as political propaganda through the signifiers and signs of capoeira. It is through these signs that the Prophets can be understood as a call for liberation, taking part in the political propaganda which permeated Minas Gerais during Aleijadinho's lifetime.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



Date Submitted


Document Type





capoeira, capoeirista, Aleijadinho, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, art history, art, sculpture, Bom Jesus dos Matozinhos, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Congonhas do Campo, Inconfidencia Mineira, Tiradentes, prophets



Included in

Art Practice Commons