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The establishment of the Jesuit Province of Paraguay in 1609 expanded upon the “spiritual conquest” of the Guaranís of South America. The liminal position of this territory, located between the southern boundaries of the dominions of the Iberian monarchies in America, conditioned the policy of conversion applied to the indigenous peoples who inhabited this region. Missionaries sought to attract the attention of indigenous leaders to catechesis to ensure evangelization, but much of their positive results stemmed from a convergence of mythical and historical motivations. Along with the use of firearms, used to repel the attacks of the bandeirantes from the captaincy of São Paulo, these factors contributed to a political alliance forming between the Jesuits and the catechized Guaraní. This alliance, in turn, allowed for the creation of a successful social, political, and cultural arrangement. The foundation of these Christian Indian settlements—known as missions—was one of the variants of the “Republic of Indians,” a framework for limited indigenous self-government codified in Spanish law, which enabled the Guaranís to overcome increasing social fragmentation and reorient their cultural activities. Since teaching “arts and crafts” was a leading vehicle for evangelization, many indigenous people also became literate. Lessons in reading and writing taught in the Guaraní language, through seminars, catechisms, and dictionaries, familiarized the population of the missions with written culture. Daily life in these Christian communities allowed the natives, under the tutelage of the Jesuits, to overcome the precariousness of the conditions to which they were subjected as exploited workers. It also afforded them an opportunity to recreate a semblance of their way of life (ñande reko) adjusted to colonial parameters.

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The mission economy supported tens of thousands of Guaraní Indians and made the Jesuit reducciones (1609 to 1767) the most populous and financially prosperous of all the missions among native peoples of the Americas. The communal structure of collective labor, shared ownership, and redistribution of communal property formed the basis of the mission economy and seemed to leave little room for the possession of private property, independent trade, and economic initiative on the part of the resident Guaraní. Late 18th century Jesuit authors reinforced such an understanding in an attempt to defend their order and its actions in Paraguay. They argued that the Guaraní were incapable of managing their own affairs and that Jesuit management of the communally structured economy was indispensible for the wellbeing of both the missions and the Guaraní. Such accounts overlook evidence to the contrary. Mission Guaraní did in fact own private property—yerba mate, horses, clothing, and jewelry—and Jesuit leaders repeatedly issued orders for the missionaries to allow the Guaraní to independently trade yerba mate. Furthermore, although Jesuit authors repeatedly denied that they paid mission Guaraní wages—to do so would go against the communal structure that they so vehemently defended—the missionaries acknowledged that they paid mission Guaraní bonuses as a reward for their skills or extra labor. These bonuses served as a way to motivate individual economic initiative or agency within the framework of the missions’ communal structure. In sum, the communal structure allowed for more flexibility in the ownership of private property, independent commerce, and economic initiative by the Guaraní than has been portrayed in both the 18th century writings of Jesuit authors and much of the current literature.

Article

There are at least two ways to think about the term “Brazilian colonial art.” It can refer, in general, to the art produced in the region presently known as Brazil between 1500, when navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed the coastal territory for the Lusitanian crown, and the country’s independence in the early 19th century. It can also refer, more specifically, to the artistic manifestations produced in certain Brazilian regions—most notably Bahia, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro—over the 18th century and first decades of the 19th century. In other words, while denotatively it corresponds to the art produced in the period during which Brazil was a colony, it can also work as a metonym valid to indicate particular temporal and geographical arcs within this period. The reasons for its widespread metonymical use are related, on the one hand, to the survival of a relatively large number of art objects and buildings produced in these arcs, but also to a judicative value: at least since the 1920s, artists, historians, and cultivated Brazilians have tended to regard Brazilian colonial art—in its more specific meaning—as the greatest cultural product of those centuries. In this sense, Brazilian colonial art is often identified with the Baroque—to the extent that the terms “Brazilian Baroque,” “Brazilian colonial art,” and even “barroco mineiro” (i.e., Baroque produced in the province of Minas Gerais) may be used interchangeably by some scholars and, even more so, the general public. The study of Brazilian colonial art is currently intermingled with the question of what should be understood as Brazil in the early modern period. Just like some 20th- and 21st-century scholars have been questioning, for example, the term “Italian Renaissance”—given the fact that Italy, as a political entity, did not exist until the 19th century—so have researchers problematized the concept of a unified term to designate the whole artistic production of the territory that would later become the Federative Republic of Brazil between the 16th and 19th centuries. This territory, moreover, encompassed a myriad of very different societies and languages originating from at least three different continents. Should the production, for example, of Tupi or Yoruba artworks be considered colonial? Or should they, instead, be understood as belonging to a distinctive path and independent art historical process? Is it viable to propose a transcultural academic approach without, at the same time, flattening the specificities and richness of the various societies that inhabited the territory? Recent scholarly work has been bringing together traditional historiographical references in Brazilian colonial art and perspectives from so-called “global art history.” These efforts have not only internationalized the field, but also made it multidisciplinary by combining researches in anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, history, and art history.