THE EMPIRE THAT INSPIRES US

THE EMPIRE OF BRAZIL

by
Jorge Couto
Historian and University Professor
Specialist in History of Brazil
President of Instituto Camões (1998-2002)
Director of Biblioteca Nacional of Portugal (2005-2011)

The foundations for the Empire of Brazil were laid with the arrival of the Portuguese court at the beginning of 1808. The arrival of the prince regent John in Rio de Janeiro led to the creation of the city's existing institutional framework. Government bodies, judicial institutions, and educational and cultural establishments transformed the city into the capital of the multi-continental Portuguese Empire (1808-1821).

                Rio de Janeiro had a growing impact on the Brazilian territory as a whole, playing a crucial role in its unification. Its status was further reinforced by its confirmation as capital of the Kingdom of Brazil and of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, bestowed by the Legal Charter of 15 December 1815, which also incorporated the Cisplatine Province (Uruguay) into the Kingdom of Brazil.

                The formal declaration of political independence, under the aegis of Peter VI of Portugal who became Emperor Peter I of Brazil, gave rise to a liberal monarchy, unique in America.

                The process of establishing a new nation, creating a new state, defining Brazilian citizenship, and international relations and conflicts (the slave trade, the Platine Wars, and the demarcation of borders) were essential milestones in the structuring of the empire.

                The Empire of Brazil faced serious political crises, secessionist rebellions, and social revolts, yet managed to preserve its national unity and improve the functioning of the institutional model, based on the Constitution of 25 March 1824, ensuring a long period of political stability.

                Peace fostered economic growth, driven by the huge expansion of the coffee plantations, particularly in the Paraíba Valley, and the proliferation of manufacturing which, from 1844, benefited from the protectionist Alves Branco tariff. Prosperity came to the north via the rubber cycle.

                The Empire oversaw the apogee of slave labour, mainly due to coffee production, but from 1850, successive laws restricted slavery until its final abolishment (Lei Áurea, or Golden Law, of 13 May 1888). The need for manpower was a stimulus for immigration, with Brazil receiving great numbers of Europeans.

                From 1808, Brazil saw huge changes with respect to education, urbanism, architecture, cultural institutions, and both art and entertainment. As well as social shifts and changing artistic sensibilities, there were also significant changes in beliefs, attitudes, and religious practices.

                In Salvador, John VI established the Rio de Janeiro Chair of Political Economy, which he entrusted to José da Silva Lisboa. Later, a Commerce School was established in Rio de Janeiro (1810) and another in Salvador (1811).

                John VI's government created a large network of military schools in Rio de Janeiro: the Naval Academy, the Artillery and Fortifications Academy, and the Military Academy. Notably, medical instruction was also introduced with the establishment of the Schools of Anatomy, Surgery, and Medicine in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.

                               The creation of the nation-state brought about new educational requirements. The decision to train law graduates in the country, which was essential to imperial bureaucracy, saw the establishment by Peter I of the Olinda and São Paulo Faculties of Law (1827). The need to create an elite in the capital led to the founding of the Imperial Colégio Dom Pedro II (1837). Responsibility for the expansion and operation of the primary education network fell upon the provinces, while higher learning was controlled by the imperial government.

                The founding of typographical establishments in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador led to the development of the press. On 10 September 1808, the first issue of the Gazeta do Rio de Janeiro was produced by the Royal Press. On 14 May 1811, in Salvador, Manuel António da Silva Serva began publication of the Idade de Ouro do Brazil (Brazilian Golden Age), or Gazeta da Bahia, which was the first private publication in Brazil. Important cultural, technical, and scientific works (originals and translations) were printed in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

                From 1810-1811, the Portuguese royal libraries Real Biblioteca da Ajuda and Livraria da Casa do Infantado were transferred to Rio de Janeiro, a collection of 60,000 pieces (books, manuscripts, prints, maps, medals, and coins). The Decree of 29 October 1810 officially founded the Real Biblioteca Pública da Corte library, which opened its doors to the public in 1814. On 13 May 1811, the Biblioteca Pública da Bahia public library was inaugurated in Salvador.

                Asian plant species were introduced, by royal order, to the area around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the Real Horto (Royal Orchard) later becoming the Real Jardim Botânico (Royal Botanical Garden) in 1819.

                After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815, John VI's government persuaded French artists and tradesmen to come to Brazil to collaborate in the dissemination of fine arts and crafts. In 1816, members of the Missão Artística Francesa (French Artistic Mission) arrived in Rio de Janeiro, including painters Jean-Baptiste Dubret and Nicolas Taunay, sculptor Auguste Taunay, architect Grandejean de Montigny, and engraver Charles Pradier, as well as blacksmiths, tanners, locksmiths, carpenters, and other craftsmen.

                These French artists and tradesmen contributed enormously to the development of the fine arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, design, and engraving) and crafts of Rio de Janeiro, facilitating the creation of the Real Escola de Ciência, Artes e Ofícios (Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Crafts) in 1816, which would become the Real Academia de Belas Artes (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in 1820. Members of the Mission encouraged replacement of the Baroque style by neoclassicism in the various artistic areas that they operated. After the proclamation of independence, they actively participated in the creation of Brazilian symbolism, aimed at aesthetically reaffirming the nascent nationality.

                In the mid-1800s, romanticism came to dominate. The policy of awarding prizes and study grants contributed towards the development of national artists, most notably Pedro Américo, Victor Meirelles, and Rodolfo Amoedo. By the 1880s, landscape painting and eclecticism were replacing academic art. Lithography, photography, and the introduction of iron into architecture, were important innovations in the art world of the second half of the nineteenth century.

                The performing arts also saw significant changes. The construction of the Real Teatro de São João, founded in 1813, allowed musical and theatrical shows to flourish. From 1816, the taste for Italianate music (Marcos Portugal) gradually evolved towards works by composers such as Mozart and Haydin. State policy in this area was reinforced in the reign of Peter II with the establishment of the Academia Imperial de Música e Ópera, aimed at training composers and musicians and fostering the production of Brazilian works. The dominant figure during this period was the operatic composer Antônio Carlos Gomes, who composed Guarany (1870). The theatre flourished with the development of Brazilian writers (Martins Pena, Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, Quintino Bocaiúva) and the professional training provided by the Conservatório Dramático Brasileiro (Brazilian Theatre Institute) from 1845 onwards.

                The creation of a Brazilian national identity and collective memory inspired the establishment of the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro (Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute) in 1838. This institution awarded scholarships with the aim of copying documents of national historic interest in several European countries. Its most illustrious member, Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, as well as discovering invaluable manuscripts, published the História Geral do Brasil antes da sua separação e independência de Portugal (General History of Brazil before its separation and independence from Portugal) in 1854. During the Second Empire, various provincial institutes were created: Rio Grande do Sul (1853), Pernambucano (1862), and Ceará (1887).

                Up until the mid-1830s, literary production was dominated by Bucolic poetry. Publication of the book of verse entitled Suspiros poéticos e saudades (Poetic sighs and longings) by Gonçalves de Magalhães, as well as the Revista Brasiliense de Ciências, Letras e Artes (Brazilian Journal of Science, Literature, and Art) in 1836, heralded the arrival of romanticism in Brazilian literature, a literary movement that would leave its mark on poetry, novels, and theatre for decades. With nationalist expression and the exaltation of freedom, Brazilian authors sought to add a Brazilian and exotic stamp to their works, a trend reflected in indigenism. The movement had several phases and numerous protagonists, including, among many others, notable authors such as Gonçalves Dias, Manuel Araújo Porto Alegre, José de Alencar, and Manuel António de Almeida.

                At the beginning of the 1880s, two new movements became established that broke with the Romantic school. Realism, characterised by the importance attributed to the psychological element of characters, found its greatest exponent in Machado de Assis, with his landmark novel Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas) of 1881. Naturalism, imbued with intense social determinism, scientism, and anticlericalism, also established itself from 1881 onwards, with the publication of the novel O Mulato by Aluísio de Azevedo.