Minas Gerais Feature

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Brazilian Baroque

When gold was discovered in Minas Gerais in the 17th century, the Portuguese, to ensure their control of the mining industry, exiled the traditional religious orders, which led to the formation of third orders. Attempts by these lay brothers to build churches based on European models resulted in improvisations (they had little experience with or guidance on such matters) and, hence, a uniquely Brazilian style of baroque that extended into the early 19th century. Many churches from this period have simple exteriors that belie interiors whose gold-leaf-encrusted carvings are so intricate they seem like filigree.

As the gold supply diminished, facades became more elaborate—with more sophisticated lines, elegant curves, and large round towers—and their interiors less so, as murals were used more than carvings and gold leaf. Many sculptures were carved from wood or soapstone. Today Minas Gerais has the largest concentration of baroque architecture and art of any state in Brazil. You can see several outstanding examples of baroque architecture, many of them attributed to the legendary Aleijadinho, in Ouro Preto (where there are 13 such churches) and the other Gold Towns of Minas: Mariana, Tiradentes, and Congonhas.

Updated: 2013-09-16

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