The history of art in Brazil can be divided into two distinctly distinct periods, a colonial and an autonomous period.
In Portugal, architecture flourished late and did not always have a chronological development corresponding to that of the rest of Europe. The Romanesque style spread there when it was abandoned in other countries, and did not last long; longer the Gothic, which left numerous vestiges there. The Manueline is the Gothic style transformed as a plastic symbol to the Portuguese aspiration towards the sea and conquest. Cultivated during the reigns of John II and Manuel I, it declined in the face of the classicism that resurfaced throughout the old continent. Thus the Greek-Roman neoclassical succeeded the Portuguese Gothic.
Religious architecture was imported to Brazil by the Jesuits, who adopted Greco-Roman classicism, eliminating what it smacked of pagan, and seeking maximum exterior simplicity in contrast with the sumptuousness of the interiors: they raised facades that were often cold, bare, inelegant, with a pediment curved or triangular, with one or two towers topped by a tetrahedron. It is the so-called Jesuit style; but in truth the Jesuits did not introduce their own artistic style, which they did not have, but they transported Portuguese and Italian Baroque, with its strengths and defects, to Brazil. The plethora of ornaments which, inside, sometimes came to hide the architectural structure, is found, in fact, also in non-Jesuit churches.
Among the main monuments we must remember the tower of Olinda, erected in 1535 by the first donor of Pernambuco, Duarte Coelho, and whose ruins still existed in the middle of the century. XVIII. Besides it, Olinda, one of the richest cities in Brazil, had various monasteries, the church of the Savior, fortresses, etc.
In the century XVI we find the names of the architect Antonio Pires, Jesuit, of the sculptor Diogo Jacome, of the architect Manuel Fernandes, in Pernambuco (1585), and of the Capuchin Francisco dos Santos, who directed the construction of the monasteries of St. Francis, in Olinda and Parahiba. The most important constructions of this century are the Jesuit colleges of S. Paolo (1554), Rio de Janeiro (1570), of S. Salvador (1572) and Olinda (1576), for which marble blocks were transported to Brazil. in Europe.
Conspicuous was the building activity in Brazil during the century. XVIII and among the most notable buildings that arose at that time in Rio de Janeiro, the church of the Military Cross (1735), the Arches aqueduct (1751), the Opera House (1767), which burned down and replaced from the Manuel Luiz theater (1769); in Belém del Pará, the cathedral (1748), the most majestic in Brazil, the government palace (1761), designed by Lande, the fortress of Macapá (1764), designed by the military engineer HA Galussi, and a house of Mercy (1787); in Minas Geraes the church of Caeté (1757); in Bahia, the church of Bomfim.
Not a few sculptors flourish in Pernambuco and Bahia, of which the main one is Chagas, called Cabra, from Bahia, author of images of a deeply human painful expression, which are found in the church of the Carmelite tertiaries. Among them, the group of Pains, S. John and the Magdalene, the Virgin, the Child Jesus, and the Madonna del Carmelo.
Many artists of Bahia were of Mineira origin, since in the province of Minas Geraes the flourishing of the arts followed the prosperity deriving from the exploitation of gold and other mines. The greatest representative of this particularly brilliant period of Brazilian art was Antonio Francisco Lisboa (1730-1814), called the Aleijadinho following physical deformity. Abandoning himself first to loves and revelries, then becoming a solitary misanthrope, he gave rise to poetic legends around his name; disseminated his works in the province of Minas, especially in Ouro Preto, S. João d’El-Rey, Marianna, Congonhas, Santa Luzia and Sabará. He is the author of the twelve great Prophetsin the church of NS de Mattosinhos in Congonhas do Campo. He was responsible for the churches of S. Francesco d’Assisi in Our0 Preto and S. João d’El-Rey.
Another notable artist was the half-caste Mestre Valentim, that is Valentim de Fonseca and Silva (1750-1813), the most famous of the colonial sculptors and architects, to whom many works in Rio de Janeiro are owed. He left a school, to which José Carlos Pinto, Simeão José de Nazareth, Francisco de Paula Borges, etc. belonged. Other contemporaries are: José da Conceição, Simão da Cunha, Seraphim dos Anjos, Antonio de Padua, Martinho de Brito, sculptor and painter, and Xavier das Conchas.
In the early years of the century. XIX, political transformations affect the destinies of art. Various and important institutes are founded in the capital, such as the naval, medical, military and fine arts academies, the schools of commerce, agriculture and botany, the library and the museum. The Viceroy Count of Arcos builds a large palace, which later renovations have changed character. Of the same time are the Quinta de S. Christovam (later an imperial palace, and today a national museum) and the S. Giovanni theater, today S. Pedro de Alcantara.
We can consider as the father of painting, in Bahia, Eusebio de Mattos Guerra (1620 or 1624-1692), brother of the poet Gregorio de Mattos, and author of canvases praised by biographers, but dispersed or largely lost. Towards the middle of the following century, Josè Joaquim da Rocha, mineiro of origin, admirable for his activity, and for his fervent and disinterested teaching, flourished, also in Bahia, and the Jesuit Alexandre de Gusmão, author, among other things, of a Nativity. The main works of JJ da Rocha are preserved in numerous churches. His best disciples were Lopes Marques, Antonio Dias, Antonio Pinto, Ramos Nunes da Motta, Souza Coutinho, José Theophilo de Jesus, Jose Verissimo, Lourenço Machado and Franco Vellasco (1778-1833), the most spontaneous of the school and very fruitful portrait painter. He too left behind disciples of merit: Bento José Campinam (1791-1874), José Rodrigues Nunes (1800-1881) and others. Then the decline of Bahian painting begins, and the center of the arts becomes Rio de Janeiro which had already had an artistic tradition and where the oldest painter was a Flemish friar Ricardo do Pilar (end of the 17th century), who in the monastery of S Bento painted numerous pictures, and was compared, for life, to Fra Giovanni da Fiesole.
From this old Fluminense school we mention: José de Oliveira (1690-1763), João de Souza, João Florencio Muggio, the half-caste Cunha (1737-1809), vigorous artist, author, among other things, of the portrait of the Count of Bobadella, Leandro Joaquim (1738-1798), painter and architect, Raimundo da Costa e Silva, painter and sculptor, and Francisco Solano Benjamin, painter. At the beginning of the century. XIX we note in Rio de Janeiro the arrival of a peregrine artist, Manuel Dias de Oliveira Brasiliense (died in 1831), known as the Roman, having studied in Rome; of his vast work Remember: A Sant’Anna, a Conception (the National Gallery), a head S. Paulon ivory, several portraits and landscapes. Another excellent portraitist was José Leandro de Carvalho (1750-1831). In the beginning of the century. The engravers Romão Eloy de Almeida, João José de Souza and José Fernandez Portugal also flourished in the 19th century, the latter also a cartographer.
The starting point of the autonomous period of Brazilian art can be assigned to the year 1816, when Dom John VI called to Rio de Janeiro a commission of French artists, organized by J. Le Breton, and composed of the Taunay brothers (Nicolas and Auguste), by Debret, Grandjean de Montigny, Dillon, Bonrepos, Levavasseur, Meunié, Ovide, Enout, Level, Pilite, Fabre, Roy (father and son), Ferrez (Zefirino and Marco). Only after many difficulties were they able to work usefully and make numerous disciples. The French influence had beneficial effects, and brought Brazil into contact with the modern art movement.