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date: 20 October 2020

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Abstract and Keywords

The imperial period in Brazil (1822–1889) is central to a better understanding of the particularities of Brazilian history in the broader context of Latin America. Independence in relation to the Iberian metropolis resulted not only in the institutional establishment of the various Latin American states, but also in the elaboration and construction of new identities aimed at legitimizing the nation. In this context, Brazil kept specificities in relation to the rest of the continent, especially by its imperial monarchist regime and by the maintenance of its slave system (until 1888), which was only paralleled in the southern United States and in the Caribbean regions. At the same time, the process of forming a Brazilian national identity in the 19th century was linked to multiple civic and religious, artistic, and cultural manifestations that outlined the great diversity of the country’s social and ethnic life. The writing of the homeland history, the celebrations, official or not, and the constitution of representative images of the new nation played a fundamental role in this process. In the same way, the arts, among which music, literature, and painting stood out, sought to reflect the multifaceted elements that formed Brazilian society. Among the many themes that emerged from this complex cultural framework, one can highlight the conception of a national identity based on the mixture of “three races” (indigenous, white, and black) whose stereotypes and preconceived images established the primary place of the “white” and the subordinate status of the other racial and ethnic groups. In addition to the canonical productions of the imperial literate elite, there is no way to discuss this period without showing the presence of popular groups, blacks, natives, and women, who, even occupying subaltern positions, acted in various ways through their cultural manifestations and festivities, producing their own narratives about the new nation that was forming.

Keywords: Imperial Brazil, nation, arts, celebrations, culture

Empire and Nation: A Brief Introduction

Many 19th-century observers saw Imperial Brazil as an “exotic flower” in the Americas. The transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1808 explains the choice of preserving a monarchical regime after independence while republics appeared in the rest of the continent.

On September 7, 1822, Dom Pedro, son of the king of Portugal, Dom João VI, severed the ties between Brazil and Portugal, declaring “independence or death” on the banks of the Ipiranga River in São Paulo. On October 12, 1822, Dom Pedro I was acclaimed emperor of Brazil. As the new state organized itself, it preserved much of the bureaucratic and administrative apparatus inherited from the Portuguese crown as well as the system of slavery established during the colonial period.

The choice of a monarchic regime and the endurance of slavery were central elements in the political and social formation of the Brazilian national state. Both featured prominently in the artistic and cultural production of the 19th century.

The First Reign lasted until April 7, 1831, when Dom Pedro I abdicated in favor of his son, Dom Pedro II, who was only five years old. The first emperor of Brazil gave up his throne as a result of myriad political problems facing his government as well as a succession crisis in Portugal following the death of Dom João VI. Remarkably, Brazil’s former monarch was then crowned king of Portugal, as Dom Pedro IV.

Because Dom Pedro II was a minor when his father stepped down, a regency was established to govern the country in his stead. The tumultuous years of the regency were characterized by regional rebellions with diverse sociopolitical profiles that defied central authority in Rio de Janeiro. The longest was the War of the Farrapos (1835–1845), which sought to establish an independent republic in Rio Grande do Sul.

Dom Pedro II was declared an adult at age fourteen on July 23, 1840. On July 18, 1841, he was crowned as the second emperor of Brazil. His main tasks were to consolidate the national state, maintain social order while preserving slavery, and shore up the legitimacy of the monarchy.

The empire underwent major changes from the 1870s onward. The monarchy lost considerable political standing with the protracted war against Paraguay (1864–1870), but the military, which fought and defended the nation, emerged from the conflict more popular than ever.

Republicans and abolitionists increasingly disrupted the political balance of the Empire, especially in the larger cities. On December 3, 1870, the first issue of the Rio de Janeiro newspaper, A República, published the republican manifesto. From then on, adherents of republican ideas multiplied and organized themselves into political parties.

Abolitionism also gained more and more followers. Slavery finally came to an end on May 13, 1888 when Princess Isabel signed the so-called Golden Law, which freed all slaves.

The Empire was overthrown shortly thereafter on November 15, 1889 in a Republican coup led by Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, a former combatant in the war against Paraguay. The Emperor, the Empress Teresa Cristina, and the entire royal family were forced to leave and go into exile in Europe. The Empire ended and the Republic dawned in Brazil.

The process of formation and consolidation of the monarchical state was arduous and filled with tensions and conflicts. At the same time that the bureaucratic and administrative bases of the State were being built, diverse visions of the young Brazilian nation were being sketched out.

The monarchy provided the conditions for the creation of official institutions, such as the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute and the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, both of which played a significant role in fostering interpretations and foundational notions of the nation. Together, they demonstrated how central and indispensable the regime was to the process of organizing the country and promoting its legitimacy. Most segments of society were highly receptive to the directives emanating from the monarchy, which aided in the construction of national identity. However, the active role of the State should not be seen as a univocal phenomenon imposed from above on a passive, uncritical, and unresponsive society. Symbolic spaces were rich in nuance. They offered possibilities to indicate the ambiguities permeating relations between official power and social actors. Moreover, the social and racial tensions generated by the slave regime fostered a set of relations and cues based on hierarchies and conflicts evident in social practice and representation.

Visions of the nation can be identified in various cultural and intellectual displays: (1) the works of historians who, in the 19th century, developed an enduring interpretation of the country’s history; (2) the works of artists who depicted the monarchy, created images of significant historical events, and captured the diversity of social life; (3) civic and religious festivals in which music played an important role, and in which women, men, slaves, rich, and poor people took part; and (4) the texts of literate observers who recorded their perceptions of the world around them.

Writing the History of Brazil, Imagining the Nation

Brazilian elites quickly recognized the need for the young nation to craft a narrative of its history. In 1838, during the regency, the government created the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute (Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro, or IHGB) in Rio de Janeiro, a body modeled after the Institut Historique de Paris, created four years earlier. Its activities were to be guided by two main directives: collecting documents and encouraging the teaching of Brazilian history. As a corollary, it was intended to glorify the monarchy, to define its heroes, and to shape the profile of the nation.1 The connections between the IHGB and the crown were made explicit by the fact that the Empire contributed donations that made up seventy-five percent of its budget and that Dom Pedro II was a frequent guest.

In the early 1840s, the IHGB sponsored an international contest for participants to answer the following question: “How should the history of Brazil be written?” The winner was the Bavarian naturalist Karl Friedrich Phillipp von Martius, who had visited Brazil as a botanist before independence on a scientific trip organized by the Munich Royal Academy of Science. His essay was published in 1844 in the Revista do IHGB, the body’s official magazine created in 1839.

Von Martius affirmed that anyone who wished to write the history of Brazil, “a country that promises so much,” could not lose sight of the “three elements” that “contribute to the development of man” in the country. He argued that Brazilian society was composed of the “fusion of three races: the color of copper, white, and black.” These were, according to him, “three elements very different in nature,” but it was their encounter, their mixture, and their mutual relations and changes that formed the Brazilian population, “whose history, as a result, has a very particular character.”2 Von Martius, in line with the Eurocentric view of the time, did not see the three components as equally influential and important; there was a clear hierarchy that began with whites at the top, followed by Indians, and blacks at the lowest level. This powerful formulation, the idea of a mestizo country, underpinned the construction of Brazilian national identity. Men were understood to be the sole protagonists of this “mestizo country,” since women were not mentioned once, following the patriarchal pattern of the Western world in the 19th century.

This interpretation influenced subsequent historiographical texts by imparting “a set of principles and guidelines for how to conceive a national history in Brazil, present in the works and reflections of the Historical Institute, as well as in the emblematic book that express this effort of symbolic construction of the nation in the 19th-century Brazil: História Geral do Brasil by Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen.”3

In that book, the first volume of which was published in 1854, Varnhagen identified the “perfect” moment in the colonial past to indicate how the “three races” came together to “save Brazil” from the so-called Dutch invasions of the 17th century.4 In session XXXI of volume III of his História Geral do Brasil, Varnhagen described the travails of the armed struggle against the Dutch in Pernambuco. This struggle, he argued, united “the three races” in favor of the common goal of expelling “the foreign.” Varnhagen repeatedly presents “the three elements together” in the same paragraph: “the governor of the blacks Henrique Dias” with his troops; “the chief captain of the Indians and commander Felipe Camarão” with his group; and the white lieutenant colonel, André Vidal.5 For the author, black and indigenous troops were central to “the splendid victory” in the decisive battle of Guararapes in 1648.6 Varnhagen credited racial admixture for creating the distinctive “Brazilian man,” but he thought it necessary to gradually whiten the population and to reinforce the primacy of Portuguese colonization.7

Both Von Martius and Varnhagen defended the monarchy as the guarantor of national unity and social order. Adhering to the political formulations of Montesquieu, they considered a republic inadequate for a state as large as Brazil. Martius considered it inappropriate to discuss republicanism and affirmed that the monarchist regime was “necessary” in a country like Brazil, where there was “such a large number of slaves.”8

This narrative of the nation as the result of a fusion of the three races, presenting the idea of ​​a mestizo Brazil, became an enduring, widely disseminated paradigm. It remains an important part of the Brazilian social imaginary. Such a view, however, posits a problematic ethnic hierarchy in which the top is occupied by “civilized” whites and the base by Indians, blacks, and mestizos still to be “civilized.”

In the 20th century, this perspective leant support to conservative positions that produced discrimination and prejudice against mestizos and blacks. It was also, however, appropriated by social movements who denounced the hierarchical asymmetry embedded in this formulation.

The Arrival of the French Artistic Mission and the Academy of Fine Arts

Along with the historiography that took shape under the auspices of the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute (IHGB), pictorial images produced during the empire had a lasting impact as well. The Imperial Academy of Fine Arts served as the influential hub for Brazilian artistic production in the 19th century, due in large part to a singular event that took place at the end of the colonial period, during the reign of Dom João VI. By royal decree of August 12, 1816, a group of French artists were formally allowed to settle in Rio de Janeiro. Bonapartist sympathizers, they could no longer practice their craft or make a living in Europe following the 1815 collapse of the First French Empire. Later referred to as the “French Mission,” the group was led by Joachim Le Breton of the Institut de France and included prestigious figures such as Jean-Baptiste Debret, Nicolas-Antoine Taunay, his son Félix-Émile Taunay, and the architect Grandjean de Montigny.9

Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the signing of a peace treaty between France and Portugal, the artists had received support from the Count of Barca, one of Dom João VI’s ministers and an admirer of French culture. The count thought that the French presence in Brazil would play a central role in creating a school of painting aligned with the new aesthetic of neoclassicism. In this thinking, colonial art, associated with the baroque churches of Minas Gerais and figures like the sculptor Aleijadinho and painters like Manuel Ataíde, belonged to a past that now needed to be overcome.

Also in 1816, Dom João VI decided to create the Royal School of Sciences, Arts, and Trades (Escola Real de Ciências, Artes e Ofícios), later renamed the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. However, that institution only began to function as a school for Brazilian students after independence in 1826, with members of the “Le Breton colony” as teachers, among them Jean-Baptiste Debret, who taught history painting, and Nicolas Antoine Taunay, who gave classes on landscape painting. The impact of the French on the formation of Brazilian painters during the monarchical period was thus indelible.

Since their arrival in Brazil, living expenses for the French painters were subsidized by the king and, after independence, by Dom Pedro I. Their main task was to serve the court and produce commissioned paintings. The association between art and political power was explicit.

Jean-Baptiste Debret: Between Duty to the Court and Fascination with the Street

Debret (1768–1848), the most prominent figure in the French Artistic Mission, lived in Brazil from 1816 to 1831, a period during which he painted portraits of Dom João VI, Pedro I, and other members of the royal court. One of his pieces, the monumental Coroação de D. Pedro I (Figure 1), captures the painter’s commitment to depicting the glories of the Brazilian monarchy. It was commissioned in 1823 by the emperor himself and only completed five years later in 1828. In the painting, the artist draws the viewer’s attention to the monarch receiving the oath of allegiance on behalf of the people from the president of the Senate of the municipal legislature of Rio de Janeiro. Sitting on the throne in imperial vestments, Dom Pedro I holds the symbols of royalty, the crown on his head and the scepter in his hand. The scene around him is solemn, with several male members of the royal court conveying their respect before the coronation.10 In the left corner, above the central plane, in a discreet and secondary place, are the only two women who can be identified in the painting: Empress Leopoldina and her daughter Maria da Glória. Reflecting their secondary social status, a few other women watch from the galleries above.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 1. Jean-Baptiste Debret: Coroação de D. Pedro I, 1828. Oil on canvas, 340 x 640 cm. Brasília, Ministério das Relações Exteriores, Palácio Itamaraty.

Even as he carried out his duties as a painter for the royal court, Debret also dedicated himself to depicting other subjects that interested him personally. He produced many watercolors illustrating aspects of daily life in Brazil which, upon his return to France, were published in a book entitled Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil.

During the first half of the 19th century in Europe, there was great interest in books that presented images of distant and “exotic” regions. Nevertheless, Debret’s book was not as successful as he had hoped, perhaps because French readers were already tired of the many “picturesque” publications of the Americas. In Brazil, however, this series depicting day-to-day occurrences came to be recognized as a precious documentary source that captured the diversity of social life in the young nation and outlined a profile of the Brazilian people. Debret’s watercolors became foundational images for how the country understood itself. They continue to be reproduced today in textbooks on the history of Brazil and countless other publications.11

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 2. Jean-Baptiste Debret: Calceteiros, 1824. Watercolor on paper, 17.1 x 21.1 cm. Museus Castro Maya, Rio de Janeiro.

According to Júlio Bandeira and Pedro Correia do Lago, “the best pieces in the Debret collection constitute, first and foremost, an Afro-Brazilian ethnographic collection of blacks and whites.”12 This statement is supported by Debret’s many pieces, particularly those in Rio de Janeiro in which slaves—men and women—are protagonists, portrayed in various different situations (Figures 2 and 3). Slaves are shown carrying out their trades as shoemakers, porters, street vendors, sawmills, barbers, and road workers. Powerful images convey the suffering in slave markets and the humiliation of public punishments, like lashings in the city square and floggings on plantations (Figure 4).

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 3. Jean-Baptiste Debret: Quitandeiras de diversas qualidades, 1826. Watercolor on paper, 17.7 x 22 cm. Museus Castro Maya, Rio de Janeiro.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 4. Jean-Baptiste Debret: Castigo de escravo que se pratica nas praças públicas, 1826. Watercolor on paper. Museus Castro Maya, Rio de Janeiro.

As a court painter in the service of the House of Braganza, Debret lived up to the expectations of his patrons in depicting the glories of the young Brazilian monarchy. But Debret’s works also offer glimpses of a different side of life in the new nation, beyond the walls of the imperial palace. His watercolors show the atrocities and inhumanity wrought by slavery. In them, he captures the unjust bases of racial hierarchy and their autonomy from imperial power.

The Second Reign, Portraits of the Emperor, and Commemorations of September 7

During the reign of Dom Pedro II (1840–1889), the Brazilian monarchy strengthened its ties to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. The government contributed to the institution’s maintenance costs, the emperor commissioned and bought paintings, and he attended annual exhibits organized by the Academy. The government was formally and informally committed to supporting the arts.

The Academy produced the most important Brazilian painters of the second half of the 19th century, like Araújo Porto-Alegre, Pedro Américo de Figueiredo e Melo, and Victor Meirelles, who later taught at the institution as well. To complete their training, they traveled to Europe—France or Italy—with travel grants that represented the institution’s highest award. Some artists, such as Pedro Américo, received funding from the emperor’s own pocket. These painters dealt with different subjects in their work, as was common in this period: portraits of the court and politicians; landscapes depicting Brazil’s “exuberant” natural beauty; scenes of social and everyday life; biblical and Catholic motifs; mythological metaphors; and history paintings.

The close relationship between the Academy and the monarchy explains the large number of portraits of Dom Pedro II produced at the time. In 1837, Felix-Émile Taunay (1795–1881), a French professor at the Academy, produced a piece entitled Retrato de Sua Majestade o Imperador Dom Pedro II, depicting the monarch as a boy but already with a regal air. The notion among powerful figures at the time that art could play an important political role was revealed in a speech by Taunay himself in 1840. Responding to those who argued that supporting the fine arts was too expensive for the government, Taunay replied that artistic production was an effective way to aid in the “construction of national glory.”13

Such visions of “national glory” can be detected in the imposing 1872 oil painting by Pedro Américo entitled Dom Pedro II por ocasião da Fala do Trono. The piece depicts the speech the emperor delivered at the opening and closing of the General Assembly, which brought together the Senate and the House of Representatives. The painter, a devoted monarchist, chose to portray the emperor at the solemn moment he addressed the nation. Dom Pedro II is shown in a posture of authority, standing before the throne in majestic garb, his long beard granting him an aged respectability, crown on his head, scepter in his right hand, with a sword on his left. A small male audience composed of prominent political figures listens attentively and respectfully. In the top-left corner, in the balcony, sit Empress Dona Teresa Cristina, Princess Isabel, and, further behind, the emperor’s son-in-law, the Count of Eu. This was the “official” vision of the Brazilian nation, of a powerful and dignified monarch who addressed his respectful and admiring subjects.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 5. Pedro Américo de Figueiredo e Mello: Dom Pedro II na Abertura da Assembléia GeraI, 1872. Oil on canvas, 288 x 205 cm. Museu Imperial, Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro.

The palace, however, was a restricted space. Furthermore, there were no public museums in Brazil at the time, so portraits of Dom Pedro II circulated in closed settings and were seen by a small number of people. The pieces were conceived of as icons for posterity, guaranteeing the monarch’s “place of honor” in history.

Thus, another essential way of commemorating and legitimizing the power of the sovereign was through civic festivals involving large numbers of the emperor’s subjects. Preserving Portuguese traditions, these celebrations began soon after the independence of Brazil, but they became more systematic and better established during the Second Reign, especially in Rio de Janeiro.14 The most important of these was the celebration of September 7, Independence Day, which symbolized the origin of the nation and the Brazilian monarchy.15

A writer for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Jornal do Commercio vividly described the “popular festivities” of September 7, 1857: “three nights of endless light, salvos, fireworks, and rockets, music played from bandstands and in the streets, patriotic dinners and meetings, and, finally, a pyrotechnic display in front of the Municipal Palace, where Their Imperial Highnesses were to be found.”16

On days of celebrations, houses and streets were lit, Te Deum chants were sung, and military parades and artillery salutes were observed at dawn, noon, and dusk. Bands played the Independence Anthem and fireworks were lit. The most solemn ritual consisted of paying homage to the portrait of Dom Pedro I, the hero of independence, and the official procession of the emperor and empress, finishing with the traditional hand-kissing of Their Majesties.

Music was an essential element in civic celebrations, both in the government palace and in the city’s public spaces. On August 13, 1848, under the auspices of the Crown, the Conservatory of Music was created for teaching purposes. One of its main organizers, composer and conductor Francisco Manuel da Silva (1795–1865), faced challenges in maintaining the institution, such as a chronic lack of resources. When the Conservatory merged with the Academy of Fine Arts in 1854, the former’s fiscal situation stabilized considerably.

In addition to religious music, patriotic hymns played an important role in bringing people together and making them feel part of something larger: the nation. In the festivities of the Empire, the Anthem of Independence, with lyrics by Evaristo da Veiga and music by Dom Pedro I, composed soon after independence, was an obligatory piece. Another piece composed by Francisco Manuel da Silva in the early 1830s was also very popular. Indeed, with the fall of the Empire and the birth of the Republic in 1889, this composition became the Brazilian National Anthem, receiving updated lyrics by Joaquim Osório Duque Estrada in 1922.17

As Hendrik Kraay has pointed out, Carioca periodicals in the 1850s described a great many people at these celebrations. Some of the articles noted, with palpable displeasure, that such participation exceeded the limits of “good society,” since even capoeiras (black dancers and musicians) joined the celebrations. Public processions and parades maintained a clear hierarchy, with the most prestigious and powerful figures leading the way, followed by the poorer population, with black slaves at the rear.

Even if, as newspapers observed, “responsible citizens” rejected the presence of blacks in official celebrations of September 7, criticizing their “uncivilized ways,” their involvement demonstrates their role (albeit a subaltern one) in constructing Brazilian national identity.

There was also a discernible association between the freedom of the nation, symbolized by independence from Portugal, and the liberation of slaves through manumission. In the 1850s, the National Independence Society was founded in Rio de Janeiro with the goal of freeing slaves by purchasing their emancipation on September 7. The institution operated intermittently until the early 1860s. By the 1880s, when the abolitionist movement had attracted considerable support, “patriotic manumissions” would become an important feature of the celebratory rituals of independence.18

Another civic event that aroused great public interest was the inauguration, by Dom Pedro II, of the equestrian statue of his father, Dom Pedro I (Figure 6), installed in Rio de Janeiro’s Largo do Rossio (present-day Tiradentes Square). The ceremony, which took place on March 30, 1862, marked the 40th anniversary of independence. The official parade traversed ornately decorated streets and reached the square adorned with arches of triumph where, at night, fireworks lit the skies. As usual, in a public concert conducted by Francisco Manuel da Silva, the Anthem of Independence was performed.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 6a. Louis Rochet: Estátua equestre de D. Pedro I, 1862. Bronze and granite. Praça Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 6b. Louis Rochet: Estátua equestre de D. Pedro I, 1862. Bronze and granite. Praça Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro.

Art and politics intersected in the history of the construction of this statue. Fundraising for a statue honoring the hero of independence among citizens of Rio de Janeiro began in 1825. But funding was only secured in 1855, after which an international public competition was opened to select a sculptor for the project. The winner was Brazilian João Maximiano Mafra, a professor at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Due to technical difficulties in dealing with cast bronze, the actual execution of the statue fell to the French Louis Rochet, third place finalist in the competition.

The statue rests atop an enormous bronze pedestal. Dom Pedro I, on horseback in military uniform, raises in his right hand the constitution of 1824. Around the base, indigenous groups are carved in relief, representing the remote origins of the nation. Alongside native plants and animals such as tapirs, armadillos, and anteaters, four Brazilian rivers—Amazonas, Paraná, Madeira, and São Francisco—allegorically symbolize the national unity forged by the monarchy.19

Twenty years later, however, the symbols evoked by the statue became targets of mordant criticisms of the imperial government. One of the most significant was the 1882 caricature published by the republican journalist, Ângelo Agostini, in his Revista Ilustrada (Figure 7). In it, Dom Pedro II (and not Pedro I), mounted on a snail, is leaning back, looking at the sky with a telescope. Around the pedestal, members of parliament sleep while riding a tortoise. The emperor was portrayed as a man who had lost track of time and the dignity of office. Distracted and slow, he was surrounded by a group of disinterested and lazy politicians. The image foreshadowed the republic that would arrive seven years later.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 7. Angelo Agostini: Dom Pedro II montado em um caracol, 1882. Revista Illustrada, Anno 7, nº 314, 5–6. Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro.

Depictions of Indians

Despite republican criticism in the final years of the Empire, interpretations and images of a cohesive nation under the guardianship of Dom Pedro II had a lasting impact, enduring until today as components of Brazilian social imaginary.

Ideas that contributed to the formation of national identity in the 19th century can also be found in the arts and in literature. Such production underscores the prevalence of the perspective that the Brazilian nation was made up of the three races and the contours of the asymmetric ethnic hierarchies of that time. At the top of the pyramid were whites of European origin, avatars of civilization, while the lowest position was occupied by blacks, slaves, and freedmen. The “copper-colored element” occupied a distinct place.

Many in learned circles defended the supposed virtues of Indians, even though they were thought to be inferior to whites. Believing that Indians needed to be “educated” for work, most Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute (IHGB) members supported their “civilization” and integration into the nation. They imposed on the state—while preserving a role for religious orders—a central role in educating and contacting indigenous populations.20

Romantic artists took a slightly different path. While Europeans looked to the distant past of the Middle Ages for their national origins, Brazilian romantics saw Indians, the country’s native inhabitants, as the model to be praised. Thus emerged the movement known as indianismo, or Indianism, which located the nation’s roots in the 16th century and idealized the Indian as a foundational hero.

In 1860, the poet Gonçalves de Magalhães, considered the founder of Romanticism in Brazil, published an impassioned defense of Indians in the IHGB magazine. Entitled Os indígenas do Brasil, the piece deemed it necessary “to rehabilitate the indigenous element that is part of the population of Brazil.” Brazilians, he continued, live in “lands taken from the parents of these unfortunate souls, who today, deprived of the coast, and of the seas and rivers they once navigated, live apart, in small groups, without communication, creeping [in the jungle] more and more, and without means to improve themselves if we do not help them.”21 He emphasized the qualities of indigenous “practices and customs,” like their communitarian ethos, their hospitality, and generosity.22 He argued that natives, “in the independence of their character, in the strength of their will, in the boldness of their spirit, and in the grace of their bearing,” represented all the best attributes of the human species.23

The Indianist movement was criticized both by contemporaries and by subsequent generations who rejected the idealization of the Indians. Its most famous proponents were, in prose, José de Alencar (1829–1877), with O Guarani and Iracema; and in poetry, Gonçalves Dias (1823–1864), with his “American poems,” scattered across several books, including the most notable, “I-Juca Pirama.” Gonçalves also published a dictionary of the Tupi language in 1857, entitled Dicionário da Língua Tupi, chamada Geral dos Indígenas do Brasil. The Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836–1896) wrote his most famous opera, O Guarani, in much the same spirit. Based on the novel by José de Alencar, the opera premiered at the Teatro Scala in Milan on March 19, 1870.

Alencar’s books were widely popular, and for a long time his readers could recite entire passages by heart. Such was the case with his novel Iracema, which tells the story of “the virgin with lips of honey,” as he described her. Iracema is an Indian, the daughter of a shaman and an adherent of the cult of Jurema, which meant she guarded her virginity zealously. But when she sees Martim, a Portuguese soldier taken prisoner by her tribe, she immediately falls in love. After managing to defend him from any danger, she gives in to her emotions and runs away with Martim through the forests and beaches of Ceará (Alencar’s home state). Iracema later dies while giving birth to a son, Moacir. Martim, heartbroken and accompanied by his faithful friend, the Indian Poti, goes out in search of other settlers so that the place where Iracema gave birth and died could become populated. Moacir is a mestizo, a product of the Portuguese conqueror and the loving and beautiful Indian, daughter of the land.24

One of the most recognizable and popular Indianist paintings is the 1866 piece Moema, by Victor Meirelles (1832–1903) (Figure 8).25 The work was inspired by the epic poem Caramuru (1781), by the Augustinian friar Santa Rita Durão, born in Minas Gerais (1722–1784). The poem recounted the discovery of Brazil and narrated the adventures of the Portuguese castaway, Diogo Álvares Correia, nicknamed Caramuru by the Indians for his use of firearms. The young Moema, hopelessly in love with him, drowned trying to follow the departing ship carrying Caramuru and his betrothed, Paraguaçu, the chief’s daughter, who were to be wed in France.

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 8. Victor Meirelles de Lima: Moema, 1866. Oil on canvas, 129 x 190 cm. Museu de Artes de São Paulo, MASP, São Paulo.

Meirelles’ painting depicts Moema lying dead on the beach. In the foreground, the sensual image of Moema seems integrated into nature, not like a corpse that perished at sea. It remains beautiful and intact, as if she had just passed away. According to Luciano Migliaccio, Meirelles used the female body as a historical reflection of the destiny of a people and a culture.26 In other words, it is a lament for the disappearance of the indigenous world that occurred after the arrival of the Portuguese.

Under the symbol of death, the representations of Moema and Iracema are situated in the distant past. The Romantics described heroic women and men in their contacts and clashes with the Portuguese in the 16th century. Such idealization obscured the thousands of Indians who died from disease, exploitation, or war following the arrival of Europeans.

In the 19th century, the state never embraced the extermination of the Indians. Rather, the government formulated a policy of “civilized integration” into national society for native remnants, to be carried out by the State or the Church. In the 20th century, many ended up integrating, but there are still small groups of indigenous peoples living in the interior of Brazil on lands constitutionally reserved for them. However, they are not considered full citizens and remain under the legal guardianship of the State.

Art and Celebrations in a Slave Society

While Romantics in the Second Reign exalted the country’s copper-colored elements, blacks, because of their status as slaves, occupied a secondary place in their work. Few writers and painters opted to make them their subjects.

The first noteworthy work in this respect was by the little-known writer Maria Firmina dos Reis (1825–1917), author of the 1859 novel Úrsula.27 Strongly critical of slavery, Reis herself was a mixed-race woman born out of wedlock. Her novel places a slave at the center of the narrative rather than in a supporting role, demonstrating a clear political stance against slavery.

Among the Romantics, Castro Alves (1847–1871), a republican and abolitionist poet, stands out. Distancing himself from Indianism, he wrote poems like “Navio Negreiro” and “Vozes d’África,” which reached a wide audience and whose verses abolitionists memorized and recited in public demonstrations against slavery. Castro Alves is remembered as the poet of the slaves.

In the many works of José de Alencar, the author of the aforementioned novel Iracema, issues related to slavery appeared in a very controversial way. He wrote two plays that touched on the matter. In an 1857 piece entitled O demônio familiar, a slave boy named Pedro was the Machiavellian schemer behind every amorous encounter and disagreement. Upon learning of his machinations, Eduardo, Pedro’s owner, “punished” him by giving him his deed of manumission. Now the young man would be forced to provide for himself without the “protection” of the family he had belonged to. His other theatrical piece, Mãe, staged in 1860, was also about slavery. The main character, Jorge, owned a model slave woman who served him with devotion. What he does not know, however, is that she is actually his mother, prevented by her servile condition from revealing her true identity.

Although Mãe seemed to subtly criticize the moral underpinnings of slavery, Alencar publicly opposed abolition in his day. Between 1865 and 1867, under the pseudonym Erasmo, the author of O Guarani published a set of letters to the emperor entitled Ao imperador: novas cartas políticas, in which he defended the preservation of slavery in Brazil and decried the “philanthropists,” especially Europeans, calling for abolition.

The most popular novel on the subject—from the time of its publication to the present day—was A escrava Isaura by the abolitionist Bernardo de Guimarães (1825–1884), published in 1875. The main character, Isaura, personified all of the qualities of a literary heroine, suffering great injustice and humiliation. The book was a frontal attack on the institution of slavery, but the author’s critiques were blunted by the fact that the titular slave had white skin.

Painters, for their part, mostly avoided depictions of slavery, with the exception of Jean-Baptiste Debret (see the section “Jean-Baptiste Debret: Between Duty to the Court and Fascination with the Street”). After his works, there is only one painting known to feature a black man or woman in a central position. That piece is Retrato do intrépido marinheiro Simão, carvoeiro do vapor Pernambucana, a portrait of a sailor completed in 1853 by José Correia de Lima (1814–1857), a student and later professor at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts (Figure 9).

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 9. José Correia de Lima: Retrato do intrépido marinheiro Simão, Carvoeiro do vapor Pernambucana, 1853. Oil on canvas, 92.5 x 72.3 cm. Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro.

The large piece, with a simple blue background, depicts Simão in a blue shirt unbuttoned to his chest to reveal broad shoulders, a reflection of his strength. The only object suggestive of his profession is the thick rope in his right hand.

The portrait is a reference to a real person, Simão Manuel Alves Juliano, a charcoal steamer from Pernambucana who was shipwrecked in 1853 off the coast of Rio Grande do Sul. Juliano acted heroically, saving the lives of thirteen people, swimming to the beach with each one on his shoulders. His feat was reported in newspapers at the time and gained such widespread notice that he earned a medal of honor from the emperor himself. Little is known about his life other than that he was born in Cape Verde, had a family, lived in Brazil for a little over a year before returning to Africa, where he died shortly thereafter.

The mixed-race typographer, editor, and poet Paula Brito ordered a lithograph of Juliano using a daguerreotype as a reference.28 This is probably what Correia de Lima used for the likeness of Juliano in his painting. The painter’s decision to paint a black man likely stemmed from the subject’s renowned bravery. Yet, Correia de Lima does not attribute to Simão the look of a powerful and bold hero. On the contrary, the representation is characterized by humility and gentleness, qualities that supposedly conformed to the condition of blacks—whether free or enslaved—in a society defined by the association between whiteness and civilization.

Although blacks did not figure prominently in artistic production during the 19th century, there is no denying the impact of African culture in the formation of Brazilian national identity. Historians and anthropologists have shown that such influence stemmed from the actions of blacks themselves. Civic and religious festivities illustrate this fact, noted as they were for the music, dance, and percussion of Afro-Brazilians.

During this period, a singular event continued to be observed in which African slaves elected black kings, a custom initiated in the colonial period. The new king had the responsibility of hosting the celebration in which African traditions were mixed with Catholic rituals. Black mutual aid societies honored their patron saints in processions through the city streets, with music and dances that became known as congadas.29

The Bavarians Johann Baptiste von Spix and Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, botanists who traveled through Brazil between 1817 and 1820, described the Festa do Rei Congo in Santo Antônio do Tejuco (modern-day Diamantina). In their view, blacks were celebrating the 1818 coronation of Dom João VI “in their own way.” The procession opened with participants carrying banners, followed by images of Jesus Christ, Saint Francis, and Our Lady of the Rosary, all painted black. Those elected as king and queen for a day wore ornate clothing including some borrowed jewelry. The procession was accompanied by a band of black or mixed-race musicians, surrounded by the congadas.30

Brazil, like most of the Catholic world, observed a great many holy days in which celebrations took to the streets, with processions, music, and singing. These usually counted on significant popular involvement, especially among the poor and even the enslaved. In Salvador, the main religious celebration honored the Senhor do Bonfim (Lord of Bonfim), the name given a depiction of Jesus Christ ascending to the heavens. The church of Senhor do Bonfim had hosted the great January festivities since the colonial period. Until today, women—most of whom are black—continue to wash the church steps in the traditional white robes of baianas (Bahian women).

The Bavarians Spix and Martius registered their surprise at seeing and hearing in the Senhor do Bonfim procession the “voices and extravagant amusements of the blacks” who took part in it. It was unusual for them to behold the mix of priests from various religious orders and lay brotherhoods of “all colors.”31

In 1855, the English traveler James Wetherell criticized the “barbaric” behavior of blacks. According to him, about twenty thousand people gathered in the square in front of the church and spread across the hill on which it was located. They played their drums and danced, despite official rules to the contrary. And, to the visitor’s astonishment, many spectators stood by watching the spectacle.32

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 10. Jean-Baptiste Debret: Marimba. Passeio de domingo à tarde, 1826. Watercolor on paper, 17.2 x 22.3 cm. Museus Castro Maya, Rio de Janeiro.

Slaves participated in public civic and religious celebrations, often through the black brotherhoods that boosted Catholic religious processions. They also performed at private parties, often as musicians. They even organized their own gatherings, like the batuque (percussive music, song, and dance), with varying degrees of traditionally African elements. Imperial authorities were often divided in response to festivities organized by slaves. For some, such events ran counter to “good customs” in their demonstrations of African paganism and could even be dangerous, since slave clusters might lead to rebellion. Others, however, saw these affairs as a necessary escape valve, a moment of pause in the grueling life of enslaved workers, a way of reducing suffering and channeling pent-up dissatisfaction.33

Slaves were also involved in public celebrations that were not explicitly religious. Amid official celebrations, black batuques took to the streets of Salvador during the coronation of Dom Pedro II in 1841, an important political moment in the life of the nation. That city’s main newspaper, Correio Mercantil, enthusiastically described the festivities in honor of the emperor, but suggested that black revelers had been an unwanted distraction. Angrily, the paper stated that “several batuques [. . .] in all public squares and places, by day, and sometimes even late into the night, spoiled the sights and the poor ears of those eager to enjoy the beautiful celebrations.”34

The historian João José Reis has argued convincingly that boisterous black festivities civilized Bahia—and Brazil—along African lines, with song, dance, and batuques.

Nation, People, and the Place of Women

In the 1870s and 1880s, following vigorous debates around new ideas like positivism in philosophy and realism and naturalism in the arts and literature, reflections on national art also deepened. The painter Pedro Américo memorably addressed this current in an 1872 speech in which he affirmed that “the national school will only be recognized when, in our galleries, in our buildings, and in our exhibits, you find pictures, statues, and other artifacts of a different style than the styles of foreign schools, with many points of contact between them and the characteristics of life, poetry, and ideals of our homeland.”35 Pedro Américo was clearly committed to developing a style that could explain the particular elements that constituted national culture, calling on other artists to produce works with the same concern in mind.

A few years later, in 1879, members of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts presented the “Brazilian School Collection” at their 25th general exhibit, composed of 396 pieces, including 349 paintings. According to Letícia Squeff, the collection showed, from the perspective of its creators, the existence of a Brazilian art school based on the Academy’s instruction. Works by several painters were chosen for display, among them two of the most important paintings of the period: Victor Meirelles’ A Primeira Missa no Brasil, and Batalha do Avaí by Pedro Américo. The exhibit ran for 62 days and was seen by a surprisingly large number of people: 292,286 visitors.36

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 11. Pedro Américo de Figueiredo e Mello: Independência ou Morte, 1888. Oil on canvas, 415 x 760 cm. Museu Paulista/USP, São Paulo.

Another question divided critics at the time: was Brazilian art merely a copy of what was done in Europe? Two paintings illustrate this quandary: Independência ou Morte by Pedro Américo (Figure 11) and Caipira picando fumo by José Ferraz de Almeida Junior (Figure 12).

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 12. José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior: Caipira picando fumo, 1893. Oil on canvas, 202 x 141 cm. Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo.

The piece Independência ou Morte was commissioned to Pedro Américo (1843–1905) for the Hall of Honor of the Ipiranga Monument, to be housed in a building being erected at the site where Dom Pedro I had cried for independence. Painted in Florence between 1886 and 1888, the scene of independence was bestowed a sense of pomp and glory by the acclaimed artist. The piece depicts the moment when the man who would become Brazil’s first emperor, mounted on horseback, raises his sword and proclaims Brazil’s independence, shouting the phrase: “Independence or Death!” His guard, dressed in gala attire, celebrates his gesture representing the break with Portugal. In front, to the left, a common man from the interior, a caipira, pulling an ox cart, watches everything with admiration and surprise. This painting has occupied a place of honor in the Museu do Ipiranga since its inauguration in 1895. It has become enormously popular, enduring as one of the best-known images of Brazilian history.37

The painting received many criticisms from contemporaries for “not displaying originality” and for being considered a copy of European works. Pedro Américo was accused of plagiarizing the piece Friedland, 1807 by Ernest Meissonier. The paintings are undoubtedly similar. However, as Jorge Coli has rightly pointed out, such critics overlooked the fact that this did not constitute imitation on Américo’s part, but rather referencing that was perfectly justifiable given that “innovation and the singularity of the object were not then considered as fundamental values as they are for audiences today.” Individual originality was not so important.38

During the clash of ideas that defined the late 19th century, some advocated for “authentically Brazilian” paintings that would depict quintessential aspects of national culture. The painting Caipira picando fumo by Almeida Junior (1850–1899), completed in 1893, shortly after the birth of the Republic, aligned with this vision. In the sunny portrait, a typically Brazilian countryman, mixed race, skinny, barefoot, wearing ragged trousers and a cotton shirt, cuts tobacco to roll into the cigarette tucked behind his ear.

The painter, born in Itu in the state of São Paulo, was a student at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts and received a stipend from the emperor to study in France. His pictorial production is vast and depicts varied subjects, but he became best known for a series of portraits that emphasized the rustic man of the field. O Caipira synthesizes the qualities of simplicity and also the dignity of the common man in the countryside, transforming that humble figure into a symbol of national art.39

Thus, Pedro Américo, the academic and monarchist painter, with his sights affixed on Europe, contrasted with Almeida Junior, who embraced national themes in his work, inspired by alternative artistic visions.

The notion of a national subject was associated in those years with another constructed idea, that of the people, whose origin lay in the past. This perspective was expressed in the 1885 publication of Contos Populares do Brasil (Popular Brazilian Stories), written by one of the most important literary critics of the period, Sílvio Romero. The author researched and selected short stories from the oral tradition, separating them into three categories: Tales of European Origin; Tales of Indigenous Origin; and Tales of African and Mestizo Origin. Romero’s organizing criteria reflected the endurance of the three races theory of national identity. For him, it was necessary to rescue the oral traditions of the people before they were lost. Romero reasoned that committing the stories to paper would guarantee the longevity of tales that had helped form the basis of Brazilian culture.

Daily popular life in the cities also received considerable attention from the greatest Brazilian writers of the period, increasingly placing urban consideration at the center of the national imagination. Aluísio de Azevedo (1857–1913), born in Maranhão, wrote several naturalistic works in which the social environment influences the trajectory of individuals. His novels and short stories depict the life of poor people in the city, as in O Mulato (1881), which takes place in São Luís do Maranhão, his native city. That story, along with much of his work, presents a narrative critical of the mestizo’s fortunes in society at the time, attacking slavery and racism.

One of the greatest and most important Brazilian writers, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839–1908), was an extraordinary chronicler of everyday life in Rio de Janeiro. Poor, mulatto, and self-taught, he produced novels, poems, short stories, and chronicles defined by subtle criticism of the problems afflicting Brazilian society and politics. One of his masterpieces, Memórias Póstumas de Bras Cubas (1881), is a fictional postmortem autobiography of Brás Cubas, whose life spans the period of the Empire and touches on questions of slavery, politics, and the relationship between social classes.

Women, for their part, played crucial public roles in the 19th century that have not always been recognized in the historiography. Women were much more engaged in political matters than has often been assumed, even before the end of the century when the suffragette movement spilled into public view. Furthermore, research has shown that female involvement in literary, educational, and artistic life during this period was constant and influential.40 Three women in particular stand out: the first Brazilian feminist Nísia Floresta (1810–1885); the journalist and activist Josefina Álvares de Azevedo (1851–?); and the painter Abigail de Andrade (1864–189?).

In her writings, Nísia Floresta synthesizes women’s struggles for intellectual empowerment and their right to education. The author was born in a village in Rio Grande do Norte and died in France. In 1832, she published the book that brought her widespread notoriety, a so-called free translation of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by the English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, rendered by Floresta as Direito das mulheres e injustiça dos homens (Women’s Rights and Man’s Injustice).41

Josefina Álvares de Azevedo was born in 1851 in either Rio de Janeiro or Recife. In 1888, she founded the newspaper A Família in São Paulo, considered one of the most radical in the struggle for women’s rights. Despite financial difficulties, the paper had a long life by the standards of the time, operating until 1897.42

The pages of the periodical contained several passages alluding to the political participation and achievements of women. Azevedo believed that women constituted an important part of society, that they were subject to laws and had duties like men, and therefore could not remain unaware of their “moral and legal responsibilities,” aware of government decisions without being able to influence them. By the end of the Empire, the author defended the right of women to vote.

Abigail de Andrade, for her part, born in Vassouras, Rio de Janeiro, was one of the rare women to paint professionally, rejecting the label of “amateur” applied to most women in the arts. She studied at the Lyceum of Arts and Trades (Liceu de Artes e Ofícios), created in Rio de Janeiro in 1858. In 1881, that institution became the first public entity to offer art classes to women. Andrade was also the first woman to receive a gold medal at a General Exhibition of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in 1884.

Her 1888 piece, A hora do pão (Figure 13), depicts a common scene in a poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro: the moment when the bread deliveryman arrives and the neighborhood residents, in their simplicity and spontaneity, rush to buy it. It is a portrait of daily urban life, with its common and humble characters, on the eve of the Republic.43

Visions of the Nation in Imperial Brazil: Arts and Celebrations

Figure 13. Abigail de Andrade: A hora do pão, 1889. Oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm. Coleção Sérgio Sahione Fadel.

In short, through their prominence and intellectual production, women made it clear that their place in the Brazilian nation needed to be recognized and their rights expanded.

Discussion of the Literature

The 19th century and, more specifically, the Empire (1822–1889) are central topics in Brazilian historiography. For a good overview of this period, see the three-volume collection O Brasil Imperial, edited by Keila Grinberg and Ricardo Salles (2009). Each chapter is written by a renowned historian and covers major themes such as the consolidation of the state and nation, slavery, cultural practices, and international relations. Similarly, the second volume of História da Vida Privada no Brasil, edited by Luiz Felipe de Alencastro (1997), focuses on the 19th century, covering social relations, daily practices, and representation in a slaveholding monarchist society.

On the establishment of the national state in the 19th century, A construção da ordem e Teatro de sombras, by José Murilo de Carvalho (2012), is an essential reference work for its analysis of politics and elites in imperial Brazil. Debates over the consolidation of the imperial state have also been synthesized in the divergent interpretations of Ilmar Rohloff de Mattos, O tempo saquarema: a formação do Estado Imperial (2004) and Miriam Dolhnikoff, in O pacto imperial: origens do federalismo no Brasil (2005). Another work that is important for understanding 19th-century Brazil in political, economic, and social terms is Emília Viotti da Costa’s classic Da monarquia à república: momentos decisivos (1999).

Slavery, of course, was a central part of Brazilian society in the 19th century. With that in mind, notable works on the topic include the following: Kátia de Queiroz Mattoso, Ser escravo no Brasil (2003); Maria Odila da Silva Dias, Quotidiano e poder em São Paulo no século XIX (1995); and Hebe Maria Mattos, Das cores do silêncio: os significados da liberdade no sudeste escravista (Brasil, século XIX) (1998). The presence and activities of poor free men are also worthy of attention in a society polarized by masters and slaves, as shown in the pioneering work of Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco in Homens livres na ordem escravocrata (1997).

On the construction of national history in 19th-century Brazil, see the essential article by Manuel Luís Salgado Guimarães “Nação e civilização nos trópicos: o Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro e o projeto de uma História Nacional” (1988). On representations of the nation through painting and the arts, see, among others, Como estudar a arte brasileira no século XIX (2005) by Jorge Coli, and Uma galeria para o Império: a Coleção Escola Brasileira e as origens do Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (2012) by Letícia Squeff. Other notable works on the visual arts include Profissão artista: pintoras e esculturas acadêmicas brasileiras (2008), a highly original study by Ana Paula Cavalcanti Simioni that sheds light on the presence of women artists in the 19th century. Searching for the participation of women in public debate throughout Brazilian history, Maria Ligia Coelho Prado published an article with Stella Maris Scatena Franco entitled “Participação feminina no debate público brasileiro,” in the book Nova história das mulheres no Brasil, edited by Carla Bassanezzi Pinsky and Joana Maria Pedro (2012).

The study of public festivities and celebrations is still incipient in Brazilian historiography. Although it mostly focuses on the colonial period, dealing only with specific themes in the 19th century, the sprawling two-volume work edited by István Jancsó and Iris Kantor, Festa: cultura e sociabilidade na América Portuguesa (2001) stands out.

Hendrik Kraay’s work on civic festivals in the 19th century also merits attention, namely, Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1808–1889 (2013). For works that deal with celebrations in the First and Second Reigns, see, respectively, Pátria coroada: o Brasil como corpo político autônomo, 1780–1831 (1999) by Iara Lis Franco Souza, and As barbas do imperador: D. Pedro II, um monarca nos trópicos (1998) by Lília Moritz Schwarcz. On the popular revelry in the 19th century, see pioneering works by Martha Abreu, O império do divino: festas religiosas e cultura popular no Rio de Janeiro (1830–1900) (2000), and Marina de Mello e Souza on Afro-Brazilian festivities in Reis negros no Brasil escravista: história da festa de coroação do Rei Congo (2002).

Primary Sources

There is an enormous variety of primary sources available for the study of political and cultural practices of Brazil in the 19th century. In terms of manuscript materials, aside from official documents, parliamentary annals, and speeches from the throne, there are a host of magazines, newspapers, travelers’ reports, and literary texts, among other possibilities available to the historian.

The Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro is, for example, one of the main primary sources for discussing the formulation of Brazilian history and national identity in the 19th century. Similarly, the process of constructing representations of the nation can be gleaned from the most varied literary, artistic, and cultural works. In literature, novels such as Iracema and O Guarani by José de Alencar, O mulato and O cortiço by Aluizio de Azevedo, or even Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis stand out in that respect. Also worthy of note is the novel Úrsula, by Maria Firmina dos Reis, an antislavery story written by a mixed-race woman from Maranhão. Poets such as Castro Alves and Gonçalves Dias produced remarkable visions of 19th-century Brazilian nationality, as did painters like Victor Meirelles, Pedro Américo, Araújo Porto Alegre, and Abigail de Andrade.

Two sets of sources are especially useful in studying festivals, celebrations, and social life in the Brazilian Empire: travel accounts and press reports, especially from newspapers. Of particular note in the first category is Viagem pitoresca e histórica ao Brasil (1834–1839) by Jean-Baptiste Debret. Moving seamlessly between written and visual narrative, Debret’s work is a valuable document for analyzing everyday practices and social and racial tensions in 19th-century Brazil. Newspapers, for their part, offer important reports and narratives regarding festivals, celebrations, and social relations in the Brazilian Empire, although they must be properly contextualized as biased entities with their own agendas and interests rather than neutral and detached observers.

Further Reading

Abreu, Martha. O império do divino: festas religiosas e cultura popular no Rio de Janeiro (1830–1900). Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 2000.Find this resource:

Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, ed. História da Vida Privada no Brasil. Vol. 2, Império: a corte e a modernidade nacional. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997.Find this resource:

Bandeira, Júlio, and Pedro Corrêa do Lago. Debret e o Brasil: obra completa. Rio de Janeiro: Capivara, 2008.Find this resource:

Carvalho, José Murilo de. A construção da ordem/Teatro de sombras. 6th ed. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2012.Find this resource:

Coli, Jorge. Como estudar a arte brasileira no século XIX. São Paulo: Editora Senac, 2005.Find this resource:

Costa, Emília Viotti da. Da monarquia à república: momentos decisivos. 6th ed. São Paulo: Editora da Unesp, 1999.Find this resource:

Dias, Maria Odila da Silva. Quotidiano e poder em São Paulo no século XIX. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1995.Find this resource:

Dohlnikoff, Miriam. O pacto imperial: origens do federalismo no Brasil. São Paulo: Globo, 2005.Find this resource:

Franco, Maria Sylvia de Carvalho. Homens livres na ordem escravocrata. São Paulo: Editora da Unesp, 1997.Find this resource:

Grinberg, Keila, and Ricardo Salles, eds. O Brasil Imperial, 3 vols. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2009.Find this resource:

Guimarães, Manoel Luís Salgado. “Nação e civilização nos trópicos: o Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro e o projeto de uma História Nacional,” Estudos Históricos 1 (1988).Find this resource:

Jancsó, István, and Iris Kantor, eds. Festa: cultura e sociabilidade na América Portuguesa, 2 vols. São Paulo: Hucitec; Edusp, 2001.Find this resource:

Kraay, Hendrik. Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1808–1889. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Mattos, Hebe Maria. Das cores do silêncio: os significados da liberdade no sudeste escravista (Brasil, século XIX). Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1998.Find this resource:

Mattos, Ilmar Rohloff de. O tempo saquarema. 5th ed. São Paulo: Hucitec, 2004.Find this resource:

Mattoso, Kátia de Queiroz. Ser escravo no Brasil. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2003.Find this resource:

Prado, Maria Ligia Coelho. “Emblemas de Brasil en la historiografía del siglo XIX: monarquía, unidad territorial y evolución natural.” In La nación y su historia: independencias, relato historiográfico y debates sobre la nación (América Latina, siglo XIX), Edited by Guillermo Palacios. México: El Colegio de México, 2009.Find this resource:

Prado, Maria Ligia Coelho, and Stella Maris Scatena Franco. “Participação feminina no debate público brasileiro.” In Nova história das mulheres no Brasil, Edited by Carla Bassanezzi Pinsky and Joana Maria Pedro. São Paulo: Contexto, 2012.Find this resource:

Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz. As barbas do imperador: D. Pedro II, um monarca nos trópicos. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.Find this resource:

Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz. O sol do Brasil: Nicolás-Antoine Taunay e as desventuras dos artistas franceses na corte de d. João. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2008.Find this resource:

Simioni, Ana Paula Cavalcanti. Profissão Artista: pintoras e escultoras acadêmicas brasileiras. São Paulo: Edusp, 2008.Find this resource:

Souza, Iara Lis Franco. Pátria coroada: o Brasil como corpo político autônomo, 1780–1831. São Paulo: Editora da Unesp, 1999.Find this resource:

Souza, Marina de Mello e. Reis negros no Brasil escravista: história da festa de coroação do Rei Congo. Belo Horizonte: Editora da UFMG, 2002.Find this resource:

Squeff, Leticia. Uma galeria para o Império: a Coleção Escola Brasileira e as origens do Museu Nacional de Belas Artes. São Paulo: Edusp, 2012.Find this resource:


(1.) Manoel Luís Salgado Guimarães, “Nação e civilização nos trópicos: o Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro e o projeto de uma História Nacional,” Estudos Históricos 1 (1988): 6.

(2.) Karl Friedrich von Martius, “Como se deve escrever a História do Brasil,” Revista do IHGB, 1844, 187.

(3.) Manoel Luís Salgado Guimarães, “História e natureza em von Martius: esquadrinhando o Brasil para construir a nação,” História. Ciências, Saúde—Manguinhos 7, no. 2 (July–October 2000): 391.

(4.) Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, História Geral do Brasil, 5 vols. (São Paulo: Melhoramentos, 1975).

(5.) Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, “Seção XXXI: Revolução de Pernambuco até a primeira ação dos Guararapes,” in História Geral do Brasil, tomo III (São Paulo: Melhoramentos, 1975), 16.

(6.) de Varnhagen, “Seção XXXI,” 56.

(7.) The first textbooks used in schools to teach the history of Brazil, like the one by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, repeated Varnhagen’s descriptions of the “Dutch invasions” with references to the Indian Felipe Camarão and the black Henrique Dias.

(8.) Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, “Como se deve escrever a História do Brasil,” 410.

(9.) The term “French Artistic Mission” was coined in 1912 by one of the group’s heirs, Afonso d’Escragnolle Taunay, in an article entitled “A Missão Artística de 1816,” published in Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro.

(10.) The scene is inspired by Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation.

(11.) Similar to Debret, another painter, born in Prussia, Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802–1858), produced many images of Brazil in the early 19th century. In 1827, his watercolors began to be published in Paris in a work entitled Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil

(12.) Júlio Bandeira e Pedro Corrêa do Lago, Debret e o Brasil: obra completa (Rio de Janeiro: Capivara, 2008), 42.

(13.) Felix-Émile Taunay, “Discurso na visita do Imperador à Primeira Exposição Geral,” apud Leticia Squeff, Uma galeria para o Império: a Coleção Escola Brasileira e as origens do Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (São Paulo: Edusp, 2012), 90.

(14.) Among the main dates celebrated in the First Reign were January 9, the “day of the Fico,” celebrating Dom Pedro I’s decision to disobey his father’s orders to return to Portugal; September 7, celebrated as Independence Day, beginning in 1823; in the Second Reign, the most important date, besides September 7, was December 2, Dom Pedro II’s birthday.

(15.) In Bahia, independence was celebrated in the 1820s on July 2 to mark the defeat of the Portuguese troops in Salvador in 1823. In 1831, the imperial government recognized that day as a national holiday to be celebrated only in Bahia. This remains the largest civic holiday in Bahia.

(16.) Folhetim, Jornal do Commercio, setembro 14, 1857, cited by Hendrik Kraay, “Sejamos brasileiros no dia de nossa nacionalidade: comemorações da independência no Rio de Janeiro, 1840–1864,” Topoi 8, no. 14 (January–June 2007): 16–17.

(17.) Antonio Augusto, “A civilização como missão: o Conservatório de Música no Império do Brasil,” Revista Brasileira de Música 23, no. 1 (2010), 71.

(18.) Hendrik Kraay, “The Invention of Sete de Setembro, 1822–1823,” Almanack Braziliense 11 (May 2010): 62–71.

(19.) James Green, Brazil in the Making: Facets of National Identity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

(20.) Guimarães, “Nação e civilização nos trópicos: o Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro e o projeto de uma História Nacional,” 21.

(21.) D. J. G. de Magalhães, “Os indígenas do Brasil,” Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Brasil, tomo XXIII, 1o, trimestre, Rio de Janeiro, 1860, 66.

(22.) de Magalhães, “Os indígenas do Brasil,” 6–7.

(23.) de Magalhães, “Os indígenas do Brasil,” 64–65.

(24.) See Afrânio Coutinho, A tradição afortunada. O espírito de nacionalidade na crítica brasileira (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio Editora), 1968.

(25.) Aside from this painting, on the same subject see also Iracema (1881) by José Maria de Medeiros (1849–1925), and O Último Tamoio (1883) by Rodolfo Amoedo (1857–1941).

(26.) Luciano Miglicaccio (curator), Mostra do Redescobrimento: arte do século XIX (São Paulo: Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais, 2000), 105–106.

(27.) Maria Firmina dos Reis, Úrsula (Florianópolis: Editora Mulheres, Belo Horizonte: Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas, 2004 [1859]).

(28.) Here I am following the analysis of Daryle Williams, “The Intrepid Mariner Simão: Visual Histories of Blackness in the Luso-Atlantic at the End of the Slave Trade,” in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World, ed. Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

(29.) Marina de Mello e Souza, Reis negros no Brasil escravista: História da festa de coroação do Rei Congo (Belo Horizonte: Editora da UFMG, 2002).

(30.) J. B. von Spix and K. F. von Martius, Viagem pelo Brasil (Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia; São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 1981), apud Karen Macknow Lisboa, “Viajantes veem as festas oitocentistas,” in Festa: cultura e sociabilidade na América Portuguesa, vol. 2, ed. István Jancsó and Iris Kantor (São Paulo: Hucitec; Edusp, 2001), 628.

(31.) von Spix and von Martius, Viagem pelo Brasil, 630.

(32.) James Wetherell, Stray Notes from Bahia (Liverpool: Webb & Hunt, 1860) apud João José Reis, “Batuque negro: repressão e permissão na Bahia oitocentista,” in Festa: cultura e sociabilidade na América Portuguesa, vol. 2, ed. István Jancsó and Iris Kantor (São Paulo: Hucitec; Edusp, 2001), 353.

(33.) Reis, “Batuque negro: repressão e permissão na Bahia oitocentista.”

(34.) Correio Mercantil, setembro 30, 1841, apud Reis, “Batuque negro: repressão e permissão na Bahia oitocentista,” 351.

(35.) Pedro Américo, “Discurso de 31/12/1872,” apud Squeff, Uma galeria para o Império, 178.

(36.) Squeff, Uma galeria para o Império, 178.

(37.) Cecília Helena de Salles Oliveira, “O brado do Ipiranga: apontamentos sobre a obra de Pedro Américo e a configuração da memória da Independência,” in O brado do Ipiranga, ed. Cecília Helena de Salles Oliveira and Claudia Valladão de Mattos (São Paulo: Edusp/Museu Paulista/Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 1999), 64.

(38.) Jorge Coli, “A pintura e o olhar sobre si: Victor Meirelles e a invenção de uma história visual no século XIX brasileiro,” in Historiografia brasileira em perspectiva, ed. Marcos Cezar de Freitas (São Paulo: Contexto/EDUSF, 1998) 377.

(39.) A few years earlier, in 1882, Almeida Junior had been praised by art critic Félix Ferreira for his thematic and artistic choices. See Félix Ferreira, Belas Artes. Estudos e apreciações (Rio de Janeiro, 1885), digital edition, ed. C. R. Maciel Levy (Rio de Janeiro: Artedata, 1998), cited in Luciano Migliaccio, Mostra do Redescobrimento, 142.

(40.) Maria Ligia Coelho Prado and Stella Maris Scatena Franco, “Participação feminina no debate público brasileiro,” in Nova história das mulheres no Brasil, ed. Carla Bassanezi Pinsky and Joana Maria Pedro (São Paulo: Contexto, 2012).

(41.) Nísia Floresta, Direito das mulheres e injustiça dos homens (São Paulo: Editora Cortez, 1989 [1832]).

(42.) See June Hahner, “The 19th-Century Feminist Press and Women’s Rights in Brazil,” in Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives, ed. Asunción Lavrín (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978).

(43.) Ana Paula Cavalcanti Simioni, Profissão Artista: pintoras e escultoras acadêmicas brasileiras (São Paulo: Edusp, 2008).