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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY PORTRAIT OF A TURNING POINT: ANA MIRANDA’S O RETRATO DO REI THOMAS P. WALDEMER SINCE a portrait implies the past, present and future presence of the sitter, a principal task of naturalistic portraiture is to overcome the limitations of space, time and mortality (West 11). This is especially pertinent with regard to official state portraits, particularly these of monarchs, which have the additional function of reproducing and preserving personified symbols of ubiquitous and undying authority (Woodall 8). Ana Miranda’s historical novel, O retrato do rei (1991) aptly employs portraiture as a central expression of authority for a system, such as absolute monarchy, where power emanates from one human source. In Miranda’s narrative a portrait of the Portuguese King, João V (1706-1750) also serves as a barometer of changing attitudes of early eighteenth century Brazilians toward their Portuguese overlords. As Miranda’s novel represents Brazilian colonists’ response to the reigning monarch’s portrait – moving from initial reverence to eventual indifference – it portrays a decisive moment in Brazil’s evolution towards independent nationhood. Given the prevailing limitations of communication of the early eighteenth century (travel to and from Portugal and its far flung colonies by sea), transmission of the Portuguese King’s authority via written documents throughout its empire was slow, costly and frequently delivered in an untimely manner. While no faster a medium of communication than written texts, Ana Miranda’s novel presents portraiture as an effective alternative to convey royal authority in a colony where literacy is far from universal. Rather than a fresh parcel of royal documents the new monarch, João V, has a portrait of himself sent to his Brazilian vassals as an affirmation of the latter’s reign over his distant colony. The narrator’s description of the portrait itself is sparse: “A imagem apareceu diante dos olhos maYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 203 ravilhados dos homens: um jovem de olhar pacífico e resoluto. Sob a pintura , a inscrição: Johannes Portugalliae Reges” (33). This focus on the portrayal of the monarch’s “olhar pacífico e resoluto” echos Jean Paris’s studies of portraitures of the powerful. As Paris has noted, portraits of Kings represented an all-knowing authority and control, characterized by their “commanding frontal stare” placed on a “blank background,” presenting an “absolute look” in an “absolute space” (Paris 15). Deleuze and Guattari have also noted that face symbolism is the despotic regime’s centralizing “master signifier” (Bogue 86). The Portuguese colonial empire of the eighteenth century was not despotic in the ancient sense referenced by the authors of A Thousand Plateaus. Nevertheless, under the “enlightened’ absolute monarchies of early seventeenth century Portugal and its Western European contemporaries the king’s person functioned as the embodiment of the state just as it had in ancient and medieval times. Like the kings of antiquity and the Middle Ages, the early seventeenth century absolutist monarch was the personification of power, with all politically important signs “registered on his frontal face,” beaming “forth as the coded body of authority” (Bogue 83-84). In Miranda’s novel the Governor of the Rio de Janeiro capitancy , Fernando de Lancastre, succintly summarizes this regime: “Os únicos limites do rei são o próprio rei” (38). In O retrato de rei the King’s portrait initially serves as a powerful simulacrum of authority that is categorically accepted as a proxy for the King’s presence and power. While the royal portrait is tangible, consisting of canvas and paint, it emanates an invisible, quasi-mystical symbolic power that is essential to the maintenance of the relationship between metrópole and colony. Reflecting the prevailing doctrine of the divine right of Kings, upon its arrival in Rio de Janeiro the Monarch’s image is adored in a manner reminiscent of the Catholic reverence of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Governor Fernando de Lancastre declares: “Sabéis o que significa a presença do rei no Rio de Janeiro? Disse Fernando sem desviar sua atenção de retrato. A graça real. O poder divino e humano, senhor da vida e da morte dos homens” (38).1 204 ROMANCE NOTES 1 “According to medieval law, the King...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 203-210
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-17
Open Access
No
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