By Peter Smith
It is perhaps appropriate that a country which claims to have the world’s highest number of baptised Catholics – almost 75% of the country’s population – should have the world’s largest Art Deco sculpture and the fourth largest statue of Jesus Christ.
The statue, declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, is called Christ The Redeemer and is situated above Brazil’s former capital, Rio de Janeiro on an area once called the ‘Peak of Temptation’ but later renamed Corcovado, ‘The Hunchback’ due to its geological shape.
When priest Petro Maria Boss first suggested such a monument to honour Princess Isabel of Brazil in the mid 1850’s, the whole project was rejected as being both ‘inappropriate and distasteful’. Seventy years later, in 1920, a second proposal for such a statue, this time to commemorate the centenary of Brazilian independence, met with more success.
The design of the statue was not due to one man though but a handful of different designers working over a period of almost a decade. First Heitor da Silva Costa sketched a statue depicting Christ carrying a cross in one hand and a globe in the other, but the final design was by artist Carlos Oswald, showing Christ with arms outstretched to form the shape of a cross “ready to embrace all people”.
A French sculptor, Paul Landowski, then created ‘the work’, helped by Romanian Gheoghe Leonida. A ‘Semana do Monumento’ or ‘Monument Week’, was organised in the hope of attracting donations to help cover the massive costs.
Construction was a mammoth project. To get a large, heavy statue mounted on the top of a granite peak almost 2,500 feet above sea level and exposed to all the elements posed considerable problems, not the least of which was getting all the required workmen and materials to the top of Corcovado.
Fortunately, some 40 years earlier, a railway had been built linking the city with a station near the top of the Corcovado peak. Originally powered by steam, it later became the country’s first electric railway.
Engineers and technicians studied the plans beforehand before deciding which materials would be most suitable and decided that, rather than stainless steel, reinforced concrete would be the best option for such a cross shaped structure. The outer layer was to be covered by millions of soapstone tiles.
Construction took nine years, during which the men who had produced the working models of the whole project, lived and worked from a small wooden shed at the foot of the mountain.