The Jewel of Brazilian Baroque
This historical and perfectly preserved 18th-century town tucked into the mountains of the interior state of Minas Gerais is one of the world’s greatest enclaves of Baroque architecture. Like a stage set of decorative wrought-iron balconies, pastel-colored mansions, and steep cobblestone streets (complete with the clatter of mule-drawn carts), the modestly sized Ouro Preto is home to thirteen Baroque churches that hark back to Brazil’s gold boom, when this region was a major source of the world’s supply.
The artist whose name and work is synonymous with Ouro Preto is Aleijadinho. Deformed at the age of forty and so debilitated that his assistants had to tie his chisels to his hands, he would go on to become Brazil’s premier Baroque sculptor, with Ouro Preto as his showcase. The church of São Francisco de Assisi was Aleijadinho’s last and most masterful solo project. Almost all the sculptures in the church are his, including those carved directly onto the ceiling. Competing for attention is the lavish church of Nossa Senhora de Pilar, Brazil’s second richest church, with more than 1,000 pounds of gold used in homage to the Madonna.