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Viceroyalty of Brazil [Brasil]free

  • Amy Buono

The Viceroyalty of Brazil (c. 1720–1815) refers to a polity that, at its greatest extent, roughly corresponded in geographic area to the modern nation-state of Brazil. Lying on the upper Atlantic coast of South America, it is bounded on the northeast by the Guyanas, to the northwest by the Viceroyalty of New Granada, to the west by the Viceroyalty of Peru, and to the southwest and south by the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Northern Brazil is dominated by the densely forested basin of the Amazon River and its many tributaries, which include the Tapajó and Xingu rivers, which empty into the Atlantic at Marajó Island. The Atlantic forests stretched over 330 million acres of the eastern seaboard at the time of colonization, representing both the region of greatest cultural activity and the initial economic motivation for European engagements with Brazil: the brazilwood trade. The Cerrado, a region of tropical savannas, occupy much of the central and southern interior of Brazil. The arid backlands of Brazil’s northeastern regions form the Sertão. Salvador was the first capital of Portuguese America, and in 1700, with the exception of Philadelphia, was larger than any city in English colonial America. When the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1763, Brazil was elevated to the status of a Viceroyalty, though the colony, per the Portuguese Crown, officially retained the name, “The States of Brazil.” In 1800, the Viceroyalty of Brazil had a population of 2,424,641, with slaves accounting for 31 percent of all inhabitants (de Matos 2016, 276).

1. Introduction.

From c. 1720 to 1763, Brazil was only loosely configured as a Viceroyalty, being under the administrative rulership of Portuguese landed nobility, soldiers, and bureaucrats, whose official titles could either be governor-generals or viceroys. Brazil was politically and territorially consolidated in 1759, when the Portuguese Prime Minister, the Marquês de Pombal, expelled the powerful Jesuit Order. Active in Brazil since 1549, the Jesuits was responsible for the evangelization of the Tupí-Guaraní indigenous populations through the establishment of the mission (aldeia) system. Pombal appropriated the Jesuit Order’s wealth and property, and ended the hereditary process of regional governance in Brazil. However, it was not until 1763, with the move of the capital city from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, that the status of the colony as a Viceroyalty was widely recognized. Prior to 1720, the lands of Luso-America were divided into fifteen hereditary captaincies, or administrative units of privately controlled lands, distributed through the donatary system for the establishment of sugar mills, with indigenous and African slaves acting as the primary labor force. According to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, the territorial delineations of Portuguese America were originally bounded to the west by a line of longitude at 49°45’W, and the captaincies divided into a series of horizontal partitions parallel to the equator. In 1750, the Treaty of Madrid between Spain and Portugal served to expand Portuguese “New World” territorial claims, in effect giving the Lusitanian empire control of areas south and west of the 1494 Tordesillas line. The gains almost doubled the size of the colony, to nearly half of the South American continent. In 1749, the colonial Brazilian diplomat, Alexandre de Gusmão (1695–1753), commissioned the Mapa das Cortes, which offered cartographic evidence of the extension of Luso-Brazilian imperialism. By 1772, the viceroys governed three vast States of Brazil: Brasil, Maranhão, and Grão-Pará. Territorial reorganization continued until 1775, when the colony was finally united into a single administrative unit, the State of Brazil. The 1763 move of the capital to Rio de Janeiro in the southeast was part of a larger administrative accommodation of economic shifts resulting from the decline of the sugarcane industry in Bahia and Pernambuco, and the corresponding rise in importance of the diamond and gold mining industries in southeast Brazil, especially in Minas Gerais. By the early 18th century, Brazil was the largest producer of gold in the world, fueling lavish building projects in Portugal and Brazil. Rio de Janeiro became a powerful, strategic entrepôt for both raw mineral wealth and African slaves brought to Brazil to work the mines. Religious architecture and sculpture produced by artists, artisans, and laborers of African descent flourished across Minas Gerais, producing a unique Luso-African baroque culture. “Brazilian Baroque” and “Luso-African Brazilian Baroque” have been used as terms to describe simultaneously artistic periodization, architectural style, ornamental flourish, vernacular religious expressions and festivals, and literary, theatrical, and musical forms.

By 1808, the political and cultural dynamics of the colony once again dramatically shifted, when the Portuguese Royal court fled Lisbon, and Prince Regent John, later to become King John VI (see Braganza, (3)), arrived in Rio de Janeiro to assume direct control of the colonial territories. This not only diminished the power and authority of the viceroys, but the new regime implanted new artistic structures, specifically the French Artistic Mission, with French artists and architects imposing a neoclassical, academic taste upon the cultural and intellectual sphere of the capital and beyond. In 1815, the viceroyalty officially ended, when John VI further elevated the colony to a Kingdom, part of the United Kingdoms of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves.

2. Indigenous culture.

When Europeans first arrived in Brazil in 1500, the Tupí-Guaraní coastal chiefdoms (collectively referred to as Tupinambá or Tupí) occupied a 4000 km area along the eastern seaboard of South America, from the Amazon River to the Río de la Plata. The indigenous groups occupying the interior of the lands, especially the central plateau, were the Macro-Gê clans, speakers of the Gê languages, who had been pushed out of coastal areas before European arrival. The indigenous population of Brazil at the time of European contact has been estimated at 2.4–5 million; the variance in these estimates reveals the complexities of historical demographics in the initial phase of colonization, when only the coastal strip of the continent was explored. Like many ancient Amazonian societies, Tupí communities actively reshaped and domesticated the natural landscape. Much of Tupí cultural production was ephemeral; within Tupí culture, dance and oratory (including song and rhythmic chant) were key features of the sensorial and sonorous dimensions of society. When the Jesuit Order first arrived in Brazil in 1549, a mission system was established across the colony to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity, and establish networks that could ensure territorial control and a steady labor force. In 1687, the Brasílica language was officially designated as the spoken lingua franca of Portuguese America. An amalgamation of ethnic varieties of Tupí-Guaraní, Indo-European, and African languages, it became an inter-language among indigenous peoples, Africans, and Europeans until the 19th century.

Tupí societies shared a visual and material culture predominantly defined by the ornamentation and modification of the physical body. Artistic practices included the crafting of adornments; the feathering, painting, scarring, and waxing of the body; textile weaving; ceramics manufacture; and the production of weaponry for warfare and rituals. Indigenous artistic traditions continued within Jesuit missions. The making and ritual use of elaborate and brilliantly colored featherwork—capes, headdresses, and other ceremonial vestments constructed from a variety of bird feathers, predominantly of the scarlet ibis—was the most important form of indigenous art-making from 1500 to 1700. Tupí featherwork was technically virtuous, with plumists altering feather color and manipulating feathers to create textural effects. In addition, Tupí-Guaraní ceramicists produced dishes, pots, and funerary urns that featured abstracted designs painted with red and white slips, bearing material and stylistic similarities to the stunning ancient Amazonian ceramic vessels from the Marajoará cultures (400 CE–1300 CE).

With the advent of the Luso-Brazilian Empire in the 18th century, colonists moved inland in large numbers, coming into contact with Gê speakers. In the southern regions near São Paulo, frontiersmen (bandeirantes) led expeditions to capture Guaraní and Gê-speaking peoples to secure labor, quell insurgencies, and clear land for colonization. Similar expeditions took place in the northern interior regions of the colony with the assistance of missionaries. The enslavement, resettlement, and epidemics of diseases, such as smallpox, caused massive depopulations of indigenous groups in 18th-century Brazil, and the disruption of interregional indigenous networks. Through ethnogenesis, indigenous groups formed new alliances in this complicated socio-political situation.

One of the most important iconographies and ethnographies of indigenous life in 18th-century Brazil is the cultural and scientific project of the Bahian-born and Coimbra-educated naturalist, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira (1756–1815). Between 1783 and 1792, Ferreira led a natural history expedition along the Amazon River and its tributaries to produce the Viagem filósofica pelas capitania do Grão-Pará, Rio Negro e Cuiabá (Philosophical Voyage through the Captaincies of Grão-Pará, Rio Negro e Cuiabá), a comparative biological and ethnographic atlas featuring the flora, fauna, native inhabitants, objects, natural products, and maps of the region, accompanied by drawings. Ferreira was accompanied by botanist Agostino Joaquim do Cabo (d 1789), artists José Joaquim Freire (1760–1847) and Joaquim José Codina (fl. 1783–90), and the Bishop of the State of Grão-Pará, Martinho de Sousa e Albuquerque. The team procured artifacts from the indigenous groups they encountered, forming a large, early collection of indigenous art and ethnography, including masks.

3. Architecture and urban planning.

Luso-Brazilian coastal cities such as Salvador did not follow the same grid plan as the conquered imperial cities of Spanish America. The architecture of the first half of the 18th century in Brazil was characterized by the Joanine style, or Portuguese Baroque, which was in fashion during the reign of King John V (reg 1706–1750), while the more eclectic styles that emerged during the viceregal period (c. 1763–1815) encompassed artistic production from the Joanine period to Independence. This included Pombal’s Enlightenment secular reform projects, as well as art and architecture produced under the reigns of Queen Maria I (reg 1777–1816) and the Prince Regent, and eventually King John VI (reg 1816–1826). Civic and religious architecture flourished throughout the colony, incorporating typical features of colonial building: crushed rock, masonry, and finishes of whitewashed lime (Underwood 1992, 49). Following Portuguese Enlightenment ideologies of urban reform, rationally organized, regimented settlements were constructed in networks across the Brazilian landscape. Amerindian inhabitants were moved from open-floor plan indigenous dwellings to multi-partitioned domestic structures in these new towns, where native music, dance, and adornment were repressed. Urban planning thus came with a whole set of “civilizing” behavioral reforms.

Town planning in Brazil was clustered in three regions, largely along the eastern coastline: the north, including Belém and São Luis de Maranhão; the northeast, with Olinda, Recife, and Salvador; and the southeast, with Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and São Vincente. Next, in the central regions of Minas Gerais, the settlements included Vila do Riberão do Carmo, Vila Rica do Ouro Preto, Vila Real de Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Sabará, São João do Rei, Vila Nova da Rainha de Caeté, and São João do Rei. Finally, in the central-west regions, colonial towns were established in Goiás and Matto Grosso. By the beginning of the 19th century, Brazil had a dozen cities and 162 vilas (Russell-Wood 2001, 18). Civic architectural projects (fortifications, waterfronts, slave ports, governors’ palaces, municipal councils, mercantile houses) were especially prevalent in Brazil after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, when Portuguese engineers and architects sought to re-craft Brazil as a symbol of Portuguese Enlightenment in the wake of Lisbon’s destruction. Of note is the Valongo waterfront and port of Rio de Janeiro, established in 1774 as a slave warehouse by the third Viceroy, the Marquis of Lavradio, Dom Luís de Almeida Portugal Soares de Alarcão d’Eça e Melo Silva Mascarenhas (1729–1790). Valongo became Rio’s first shantytown (favela) after the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888. During urban excavations in 2011, the Valongo slave market was rediscovered, including artifacts, such as amulets from the Congo, Angola, and Mozambique, which were interred at the site. As of 2017, it has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Religious architecture of 18th-century Brazil, especially of Minas Gerais, has received notable praise and attention, due in part to Brazilian modernist artists and intellectuals from the 1920s and 1930s who showered attention on Baroque architecture and sculpture as exemplary of the contributions of African culture to national heritage. Religious architecture, painting, and sculpture from the late 17th century through to 1808 has frequently been referred to under the expansive rubric of the “Brazilian Baroque,” with some scholars opting for more precise temporal, stylistic, and media-based subdivisions, with “Rococo” preferred for describing the rich, decorative ornamentation in churches of Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo during the 18th century.

Counter-Reformation ideologies and post-Tridentine Catholic theology influenced 18th-century building practices in Brazil, as did German and French Rococo forms and styles prevalent in Portugal. Sweeping curves, scrolling pediments, and emphasis on the decorative embellishments around doors and windows were particular features of religious architecture throughout the colony. Religious architecture in Brazil was the product of religious patronage networks, particularly the lay confraternities and tertiary orders that dominated during the second part of the 18th century.

Architectural projects during this period followed the medieval Portuguese model of guild organization. The lead architects and draftsmen were usually of Portuguese birth or descent, while the craftsmen working under the master were often of mixed cultural and ethnic heritage. The impact of African and Afro-descent artists, artisans, and laborers cannot be overstated. Between the 1530s and 1822, 3.5–5 million Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves (Russell-Wood 2001, 22). “Brazilian Baroque” forms were created within the complex matrices of slave systems, Luso-Brazilian workshop practices, and local cultural circumstances.

The most famous architect and sculpture of this period in Minas Gerais was Antônio Francisco Lisboa, also known as “Aleijadinho” (or the “little cripple”), for his physical disability. The son of a Portuguese carpenter and his African slave, Isabel, Aleijadinho went on to become one of the most significant architects, sculptors, and woodcarvers of his day. He was the architect of S. Francisco de Assis (1766–1794) for the Ordem Terceira de S. Francisco in Vila Rica (now Ouro Prêto). Aleijadinho’s knowledge of European architectural styles came from architectural treatises, and ornamental engravings from southern Germany, particularly the Augsburg-based Klauber brothers. Most architectural projects of the period were, in fact, multimedia ensembles.

Tilework (azulejaria) was one of the most ubiquitous features of Luso-Brazilian architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries, and especially important in the northeastern regions. Colorful blue and white or multicolored tiles lined staircases, cloisters, cupolas, and windows, connecting stylistic features of the gilt woodworking and painting. They often featured abstracted floral motifs, Rococo designs, and narrative, allegorical themes popular in Portuguese architecture of the period. The Franciscans were the primary importers of tiles in colonial Brazil. One of the most important azulejo cycles of the 18th century was that of the convent of S. Francisco de Salvador (1746–1750), the headquarters of the Franciscan Order in Bahia. Tiles were always imported from Portugal, as they were for building projects across the Portuguese empire, attesting to these as global media.

4. Painting, graphic arts, and sculpture.

During the 18th century, painters and sculptors were in high demand for the production of artworks for religious spaces. Sculpture, however, dominated the arts of the period. Monastic schools, lay confraternities, and tertiary orders commissioned painters, woodcarvers, and stone sculptors. Bahia and Minas Gerais were the two largest regional centers of artistic production. Most 18th-century sculpture in Brazil was carved in wood (talha), and was polychromed or covered in gold leaf, creating highly theatrical and lavish interiors. For example, the church of S. Francisco de Assis (1686–1737) in Salvador had opulent gilded carved retables, floral designs across the moldings and ceiling, and stucco angels, all produced by the Franciscan sculptor, Frei Luís de Jesus. Francisco Manoel das Chagas was a sculptor of Afro-descent active in mid-18th-century Salvador. His polychromed sculpture of the Dead Christ represents a tortured and flagellated body. Minas Gerais also witnessed a florescence of sculptural workshops working in different styles, for different patrons. One of the most notable sculptors of the period was Franciso Xavier Brito (d 1751), who produced numerous polychrome statues of religious figures.

Aleijadinho, mentioned earlier as an architect, produced both monumental sculptural ensembles and individual sculptures. Working throughout the colonial towns of Minas Gerais, Aleijadinho produced works in wood and soapstone. One of his most important sculptural projects was for the pilgrimage church of Bom Jesus de Matozinhos, Congonhas do Campo, where he and his assistants produced sixty-six life-sized, highly naturalistic figures of Christ’s passion (1796–1799) in polychromed wood. These sculptures stand in six chapels forming the Via Sacra, or Way of the Cross, ending on a sacred hill. Aleijadinho also produced twelve life-sized soapstone sculptures of Old Testament prophets (1800–1805). As in medieval religious drama, these emotionally evocative tableaux of stone statues allowed worshipers to participate in sacred theater as they climbed the stairway and viewed the sculptures from varying angles.

The most important painting of 18th-century Brazil was produced within architectural settings. Manuel da Costa Ataíde was notable for producing brightly colored, illusionistic scenes for churches and chapels in the Minas Gerais, including the famous Glorification of the Virgin for the nave of the church of S. Francisco de Assisi in Ouro Prêto. José Joachim da Rocha (1737–1807) was an important painter in Bahia while Frei Ricardo do Pilar (1635–1700) produced paintings in Rio de Janeiro. His paintings for the Monastery of S. Bento’s main chapel vaults were based on 16th-century Benedictine engravings. In addition, small-scale, popular arts flourished across Brazil in the 18th century, where popular devotion took place in household shrines and in “saint’s rooms” in common religious spaces. These featured a plethora of religious statuettes, altar-tables, engravings, wooden ex-votos, and charms (patuas) that adorned the walls of these verandas and rooms.

Lastly, the Italian military engineer, Carlo Giuliani, known as Carlos Julião (1740–1811), who traveled the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and made his way to Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, produced secular painted images of the colony. His album of forty-three watercolors, Figurinhos de Brancos e Negros dos Uzos do Rio de Janeiro e Serro do Frio (Figures Illustrating the Customs of Whites and Blacks in Rio de Janeiro and Serro do Frio) is a rich pictorial source concerning culture and labor in late 18th-century Brazil, especially pertaining to the Luso-African world of Rio de Janeiro.

5. Gold and silver.

Given the importance of Brazil’s mineral wealth in the history of colonization, it is not surprising that precious metals were an artistic medium of importance in the religious workshops of colonial Brazil. The same workshops that made the religious reliquaries and silver monstrances that abounded in the churches of Minas Gerais, also produced miniature amulets in the shape of body parts. Even more particular to colonial Brazil are pencas de balangandãs, the cast silver and gold chains of amulets (strings of various elements such as bone, coral, gold, silver) worn around the waists by Afro-descent women in Brazil. These survive from the 19th century forward in collections across Brazil, though their relationship to earlier religious metalworking practices is clear, such as those of Africans brought to Minas Gerais, including Fante-Asante, Baule, and Yoruba, who likely came with artistic and technical knowledge of making jewelry and other adornments (Sullivan 2001, 272).

6. Museums, art libraries, and photographic collections.

The Museu Nacional established in Rio de Janeiro in 1818 was Brazil’s first museum. Its origins stem from the royal collections and libraries brought to Rio de Janeiro from Lisbon in 1808, and the materials procured during the cultural and scientific projects and expeditions undertaken by naturalists and scientists during the period of the Brazilian Empire. Today, the Museu Nacional is under the aegis of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, and functions as both a museum and teaching collection. Holding Brazil’s greatest collections of ethnographic and archaeological materials relating to Brazil’s indigenous cultures, it is especially strong in Tupí-Guaraní archaeology, as well as ethnographic collections relating to Brazil’s African heritage, collections relating to Brazil’s diplomatic endeavors around the world, and collections of natural history specimens. Two other important collections of indigenous art and artifacts are the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Belém and the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia (MAE) at Universidade de São Paulo. Both contain ethnographic and archaeological material from ancient Amazonian cultures to the present (ceramics, basketry, musical instruments, masks, weapons, featherwork). The Museu Histórico Nacional (MHN) in Rio de Janeiro features permanent exhibitions of artworks and cultural artifacts from diverse periods in Brazil’s history, and holds a repository of historical documents.

The cultural heritage of 18th-century Brazil (art, architecture, sculpture, jewelry) is preserved throughout Salvador, first in the architecture of the old colonial capital itself, and in the city’s museums. The Museu de Arte da Bahia has paintings from the 17th to 19th centuries, and the Museu de Arte Antiga has holdings of religious and popular art. The most important museum of colonial art in Salvador is the Museu de Arte Sacra, located in the convent of S. Teresa, featuring works by Aleijadinho and examples of woodcarving, and gold and silver reliquaries. The Museu da Fundação Carlos Costa Pinto holds an impressive collection of colonial Brazilian furniture and Afro-Brazilian jewelry. The Museu do Convento do Carmo in Salvador displays sculptures by Francisco Manoel das Chagas, as well as period furniture and gilt woodcarving. The Santa Casa da Miserícordia in Salavdor also contains colonial religious paintings and furniture.

Brazil’s 18th-century colonial towns of Minas Gerais are well preserved and serve as “living museums” of Brazilian Baroque and Rococo cultural heritage (architecture, sculpture, furniture, decorative arts). Ouro Prêto (Vila Rica) has the Museum do Aleijadinho, which displays works by the sculptor, as well as by other artists of 18th-century Minas Gerais. The Museu da Inconfidência, the regional history museum, holds works by Aleijadinho and Ataíde. The Museu do Oratório in Ouro Prêto houses domestic altarpieces and portable devotional objects from the colonial period. The Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro serves as one of the great repositories of archival documents and images relating to 18th-century Brazil.


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