Rio de Janeiro: Photo Essay on Restoration of Christ Redeemer Monument


Since the mid-1800s, there was a plan to build a great statue of Christ, the Redeemer on a Rio de Janeiro mountain. Even the Sugar Loaf was considered. However, it would be on the mountain in the shape of God’s finger, Corcovado, a granite rock over 700 meters high, that the sculpture would find its pedestal.
In the contest to choose a project, the winner was Heitor da Silva Costa. He surrounded himself with talented professionals, like French structural engineer Albert Caquot and sculptor Paul Landowski, also French. Interestingly, the first sculptor approached for the task, Emile Antoine Bourdelle, declined the invitation, in awe of the monument’s huge scale. Albeit Bourdelle had in his résumé several monumental sculptures all over the world, none of them reached the almost 40 meters in height!
Unveiled in October 12, 1931, it has its 80th anniversary in 2011, "The Year of Rio’s Art Déco".
In the following photographic essay, it is surprising to see the mosaic casing in soapstone, which covers the reinforced concrete structure. It is curious the story behind the little rock triangles: an enormous group of catholic ladies would gather in the halls of Rio de Janeiro’s archdiocese, and glued one by one on a screen, which would then be applied onto the monument.
While the statue is being restored, it will be completely covered in scaffolding and a protective screen; tourists are disappointed.
For the next two months, it will be impossible to see the Christ, the Redeemer statue, on top of Corcovado Mountain, 709 meters high. Engulfed in a metallic structure for over three weeks now, one of the most famous monuments in the world is being covered by a protective screen to open the restoration process of its surface, scourged by rain, wind and lightning bolts. The screen, which displays the image of the statue in scale, will only be lifted in June.
Under the cover, workers survey each square meter of the monument’s surface, collecting samples and mapping the damage caused by weather phenomena along its 78 years. With rubber hammers, two men go up and down ladders set up around the statue, looking for hollow spots, which might come loose. Over the statue’s right arm, they work on recuperating the fingertips, which stretch over a cliff. “The hardest part is dealing with the height and the wind," says architect Diogo Caprio.

On the feet of the statue, the company in charge tests chemicals that will be used to clean stains off the surface—a detailed restoration work of the nearly 1.5 million soapstone tiles that cover the statue, devoting the kind of care used in Medicine.

"We usually say that we are art doctors, and we use medical and dentistry terms to identify the monument restoration process," says architect Márcia Braga. She was part of other two restorations of the Christ statue and says she knows every corner of it and the "pathologies" that created the flaws on its surface.
Time has left its mark mainly on the arms and face of the Christ, the Redeemer statue. There are pieces missing on the fingertips, head and eyebrows, cracked by lightning bolts that hit mainly the statue’s extremities. "Because of the weather, the tiles that cover the monument are breaking off. There was the need for a widespread restoration and then the waterproofing of the statue," ponders Rio’s Archbishop Dom Orani Tempesta.
Some of the tourists, however, are not very pleased to find that the most famous site in Rio is covered in scaffolding and now also by a screen. Travel guides say many foreign visitors learn of the work only when they arrive in the city, and can no longer change their itinerary. German Sabine Walter, who is visiting Brazil for the first time, lamented having lost the chance to admire the statue. "I was a little disappointed when I heard, but I decided to come anyway to at least enjoy the view of the city.”


The great-granddaughter of Heitor da Silva Costa, designer of the Christ, the Redeemer project, Bel Noronha, will be present along the 11th World Congress on Art Déco, in August, 2011, and will screen two of her documentaries on the largest Art Déco monument in the planet, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World! More information will be forthcoming on the 11th World Congress of Art Deco in Rio. We’ll keep you posted.
See you then!
Márcio Alves Roiter
Founder President Instituto Art Déco Brasil