16.03.2015 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

New museum for the World Heritage Site in Congonhas

In the year in which the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas, Minas Gerais, celebrates 30 years on the World Heritage List, the city will gain a new museum to tell the story of this religious pilgrimage destination, a major masterpiece of the Brazilian Baroque. The museum will offer visitors elements to enhance their experience and understanding of the art collection and the religious phenomenon that have been occurring there over more than two centuries.

Construction of the Museum of Congonhas - Baroque and Stonework Studies Reference Centre, adjacent to the sanctuary, is in its final phases. It is the result of a partnership between UNESCO, IPHAN (the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute), an agency of the federal government, and the Municipal Government of Congonhas.

President of the Municipal Culture, Recreation and Tourism Foundation of Congonhas (Fumcult), Sergio Rodrigo Reis, believes that the museum will fill a gap by providing an historical and artistic background for the site. He believes that it will attract tourists. Today "people pass through the city, stay for an hour and go away. Now they might stay a bit longer. The museum magnifies and amplifies this rich collection that Congonhas has", says Sergio.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas is an outdoor work of art. Selected for World Heritage listing in 1985, it is home to the largest collection of sculptures by the Brazilian artist, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, the Aleijadinho, a principal figure in colonial art, who died in 1814. There are 12 Old Testament apostles and 64 pieces of the Stations of the Cross. The architectural complex of the sanctuary was built by the church over a period of more than a century, commencing in 1757. It includes: the forecourt (outdoor patio); the staircase, with the famous Prophets of Aleijadinho; and, six chapels, the last of which was completed in 1875.

Visitors to the Congonhas Museum will be able to learn more about the other artists who worked alongside Aleijadinho and the techniques employed at the time. They will discover the origins of the devotion to Bom Jesus, brought to Brazil by the Portuguese miner, Feliciano Mendes, as payment promised for the cure of a disease. They will follow the trail of preservation of the sanctuary, which was heritage declared by the Brazilian government as early as 1939. They will be enchanted by the rich collection of 344 works of art, composed of ex-votos and household saints, acquired especially for the new museum.

Different expographic resources will be used to provide optimum enjoyment for a heterogeneous audience expected to include students, pilgrims and art experts, among others. Videos especially produced for the museum will be shown along with relief models, display cases of tools, exhibitions, descriptions, interpretations, heritage education activities and/or other means to heighten the enjoyment of the public.

In addition to the conception and coordination of the museum, UNESCO has recently embarked on activities with a view to preserving Aleijadinho’s soapstone sculptures. Using cutting-edge technology, the 12 statues of prophets have been digitized in 3D. The digital copies will not only enable digital media images of the prophets for the exhibition, but will be used in the preservation and restoration of the works; and, most importantly, in monitoring the state of conservation of the pieces in the face of time and weather. Additionally, plaster copies of two prophets have been made for security purposes. The others will be completed as activities of the functioning museum.

UNESCO is responsible as much for the museological project, as it is for the architectural project and also assists the Municipal Government of Congonhas, which is responsible for the building work. Management of the museum, when it is opened, will be the responsibility of the Municipal Government along with Iphan. (This text was originally published in the newsletter Brazil – UNESCO in Action, #1, March, 2015)

Press contacts:
Ana Lucia Guimaraes, 61-2106 3536, a.guimaraes@unesco.org  
Demetrio Weber, 61-2106 3538, d.weber(at)unesco.org

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