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5 - Allegorical Worlds: Baroque Aesthetics and the Notion of an ‘Absent Truth’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2021

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Summary

The montage-like statuettes that you see in the pictures on the left examples of a popular art form from 19th-century Bahia and are called O Menino Jesus no Monte, the Child Jesus on the Mountain. They are sometimes also referred to as lapinhas, ‘little caves’, as many of them exhibit a dark void in the middle of the mountain, suggestive of a cave. What little information I found on these lapinhas reveals that they were made in Bahian convents in the Reconcavo area. The nuns from the Convento de Recolhimento de Nosso Senhora dos Humildes in the town of Santo Amaro de Purificacao where particularly famed for their artistic skills, and produced a great number of these lapinhas. Guarded under glass bell jars or in oratories, they were put on display in Bahian homes in the Christmas period (Marques & Araújo 2006; Silva 2007).

I do not, however, bring these lapinhas to your attention as an overture to a discussion of the artistic skills of Bahian nuns or of Bahian Christmas celebrations. I present them here, at the beginning of this chapter, because they are a particularly revealing materialization of a baroque ‘cosmovision’. This cosmovision – which might be understood as the configuration of the relationships between human beings, god(s) and the world they inhabit – needs to be fleshed out halfway this book for a number of reasons. Being more explicit about what a baroque register of worldmaking is (and does) may help to clarify the heuristic work that the notion of ‘the baroque’ has done in the preceding chapters. Moreover, a thorough discussion of a baroque cosmovision helps to prepare an interpretative framework for the chapters to come, which deal with responses in the Candombé community to that never-ending stream of visitors knocking on the doors of their temples.

So take a good look at these lapinhas, which in their basic structure are all alike. What you see is the child Jesus who, in king-like posture and outfit, reigns over a world that is represented as a pile of fragments: rooster, seashell, rabbit, house, little man, flower, duck. Glued to the mountain in random fashion, these individual elements are mere emblems: their meaning does not exceed the depth of a pictogram. Nothing in these lapinhas invites you to ponder the deeper significance of roosters, flowers or ducks, nor their mutual relations.

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Ecstatic Encounters
Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real
, pp. 159 - 182
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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