Paintings showing the main moments in Brazil’s history

From the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers in 1500 until Brazil’s independence, many important events marked the history of Brazil.

The historical events were recorded by the works of art of painters Oscar Pereira da Silva, Victor Meirelles, Jean-Baptiste Debret, Manuel José de Araújo and Pedro Américo.

Main historical facts that marked the History of Brazil

1. Pedro Álvares Cabral’s landing in Porto Seguro in 1500

Desembarque de Pedro Álvares Cabral em Porto Seguro em 1500 - Oscar Pereira da Silva
Pedro Álvares Cabral’s landing in Porto Seguro in 1500 – Oscar Pereira da Silva

Landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral in Porto Seguro in 1500 (sometimes referred to as the Discovery of Brazil) is an oil painting on canvas by Brazilian artist Oscar Pereira da Silva.

Pintor Oscar Pereira da Silva
Pintor Oscar Pereira da Silva

The canvas, which was finished in 1900, depicts the first landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s ships on Brazilian soil, in what would become the territory of Porto Seguro, in the state of Bahia.

Belonging to the genre of history painting, which combines portraiture, still life and landscape to represent a particular event of historical importance, the work was received with great prestige by society and the press of the time, and was definitive in establishing Oscar Pereira da Silva as a prominent painter on the national art scene at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pereira da Silva’s painting is one of the most referenced images of the arrival of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s caravans in Brazil, and is the most widespread representation among textbooks and other academic publications.

2. First Mass in Brazil 

The first of the great compositions by Victor Meirelles, the First Mass in Brazil remains the most famous and significant work in his entire output.

Primeira Missa no Brasil (Victor Meirelles)
The First Mass in Brazil (Victor Meirelles)

Painted in Paris between 1858 and 1861, during his second study period as a fellow at the Imperial Academy, it measures 2.70 x 3.57 meters excluding the frame.

Victor Meirelles in the 1860s
Victor Meirelles in the 1860s

The work earned him recognition at the prestigious Paris Salon in 1861 and consecration in his homeland, being decorated as a Knight of the Order of the Rose by King Pedro II.

The work is a direct result of Pedro II’s nationalist, educational and civilizing program, which, among other objectives, aimed to visually reconstruct key moments in Brazilian history through the visual arts, serving to crystallize a national identity and as a calling card to affirm Brazil among the progressive nations of the world.

For its realization, he had constant advice from Araújo Porto-Alegre, director of the Imperial Academy, as well as Ferdinand Denis, director of the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris, where he researched iconography relating to the indigenous people, as well as probably drawing inspiration for the central scene from the Première messe en Kabyli (1853) by the French painter Horace Vernet, and Une messe au Louvre pendant la Terreur (1847), by Marius Granet.

The painting depicts an event that would have taken place on April 26, 1500, when Pedro Álvares Cabral ordered a mass to be said to symbolically mark the taking of possession of Terra de Vera Cruz by the Portuguese Crown and the establishment of the Catholic faith.

3. Departure of Estácio de Sá to found the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro in 1565

Partida da esquadra de Estácio de Sá de Bertioga para a fundação da cidade do Rio de Janeiro.
Partida da esquadra de Estácio de Sá de Bertioga para a fundação da cidade do Rio de Janeiro – Benedito Calixto

The departure of Estácio de Sá from Bertioga, in the captaincy of São Vicente, towards Guanabara Bay to found the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. On the sand, kneeling, Anchieta receives the blessings of Manuel da Nóbrega. Oil on canvas by Benedito Calixto (1853 -1927).

4. Foundation of Rio de Janeiro in 1565

“Fundação do Rio de Janeiro”, Mem de Sá entrega as chaves da cidade ao alcaide. Obra de Antonio Firmino Monteiro.
“Fundação do Rio de Janeiro”, Mem de Sá entrega as chaves da cidade ao alcaide. Obra de Antonio Firmino Monteiro.

“Foundation of Rio de Janeiro”, Mem de Sá hands over the keys to the city to the mayor. Work by Antonio Firmino Monteiro.

5. The attack on Salvador de Bahia

Ataque de Salvador, tela do pintor flamengo Andries van Eertvelt, cerca de 1624
Ataque de Salvador, tela do pintor flamengo Andries van Eertvelt, cerca de 1624

Attack on Salvador da Bahia, canvas by the Flemish painter Andries van Eertvelt, circa 1624 (probably based on an engraving by Claes Jansz Visscher, also the author of the engraving below with Diogo Furtado), collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. It depicts the naval battle in Todos os Santos Bay to take the city. The Dutchman Piet Hein’s ship is at the bottom right.

6. Slave Punishment

Castigo de Escravo - Jean-Baptiste Debret
Punishment of a Slave – Jean-Baptiste Debret

The work of Jean-Baptiste Debret is considered to have made a major contribution to Brazil, and is often analyzed by

painter Jean-Baptiste Debret
painter Jean-Baptiste Debret

historians as a representation of everyday life and society in Brazil – especially life in Rio de Janeiro – in the mid-19th century.

Jean-Baptiste Debret was part of the French Artistic Mission (1817), which founded an Academy of Arts and Crafts in Rio de Janeiro, later the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, where he taught.

Back in France (1831), he published Viagem Pitoresca e Histórica ao Brasil (1834-1839), documenting aspects of Brazilian nature, man and society at the beginning of the 19th century.

7. The Coronation of Dom Pedro II

A Coroação de Dom Pedro II - pintor Manuel José de Araújo
The Coronation of Dom Pedro II – painter Manuel José de Araújo
pintor Manuel José de Araújo
pintor Manuel José de Araújo

The painting The Coronation of King Pedro II is an oil on canvas from 1845 and 1846, measuring approximately 80 x 110 cm.

The work is currently in the National Historical Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

The work was painted by the Brazilian romanticist writer, politician, journalist, caricaturist, architect, teacher and diplomat Manuel José de Araújo Porto-Alegre, the first and only Baron of Santo Ângelo (Rio Pardo, November 29, 1806 – Lisbon, December 30, 1879).

8. The Cry of Ipiranga

O Grito do Ipiranga - pintor Pedro Américo
O Grito do Ipiranga – pintor Pedro Américo

 “O Grito do Ipiranga” (The Cry of Ipiranga), also known as “Independence or Death”, is the best-known painting about the proclamation of Brazil’s separation from Portugal.

pintor Pedro Américo
pintor Pedro Américo

The painting was commissioned in 1886 by the Ipiranga Monument Commission from the painter Pedro Américo, an artist who was also responsible for other important historical paintings such as “The Battle of Avahy” and “Tiradentes quartered”.

The painter carried out meticulous historical research into the independence movement, as well as period costumes and paintings of historical events by other artists.

The canvas was the main work to be exhibited at the inauguration of the Museu Paulista on September 7, 1895, and was the centerpiece of the building’s main hall.

9. Emperor Pedro II, his wife Teresa Cristina and their daughters, Princesses Isabel and Leopoldina

O imperador D. Pedro II, sua esposa Teresa Cristina e suas filhas, princesas Isabel e Leopoldina, em retrato pintado por François-René Moreaux em 1857, no Rio de Janeiro.
Emperor Pedro II, his wife Teresa Cristina and their daughters, Princesses Isabel and Leopoldina, in a portrait painted by François-René Moreaux in 1857 in Rio de Janeiro.

While still in France, the painter François-René Moreaux studied with Couvelet and Baron de Gross. From 1838 he traveled around Brazil, later settling in Rio de Janeiro.

He taught in his studio and worked as a caricaturist. In 1856, together with others, he founded the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios, which he also directed and where he taught drawing. The following year, with Heaton and Regensburg, he founded the Contemporary Brazilian Gallery.

He devoted himself especially to portraits, but also cultivated historical painting. For his painting The Sagration of Dom Pedro II, he received the habit of the Order of Christ. He exhibited in the Academy’s salons until 1850, appearing again in 1859. He left portraits of various personalities of the time.

10. The Proclamation of Independence by François-René Moreaux

A Proclamação da Independência de François-René Moreaux
The Proclamation of Independence by François-René Moreaux

Detail of an oil painting on the Independence of Brazil, by François-René Moreaux, a French painter then living in Rio, which is now kept in the Imperial Museum in Petrópolis/RJ.

It was executed in 1844 at the request of the Imperial Senate. This painting predates Pedro Américo’s and may have inspired him.

The Independence of Brazil is an extremely important historical milestone for the country. On September 7, 1822, Brazil proclaimed its independence from Portugal, ending centuries of colonial rule.

This emblematic event not only defined Brazil’s political and social trajectory, but also shaped national identity and laid the foundations for building a sovereign nation.

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