- The Aleijadinho at Home and Abroad“Discovering” Race and Nation in Brazil
So much misery dared to ally itself with such poetry!—Rodrigo José Ferreira Bretas, Antônio Francisco Lisboa
Recent studies in the history of Brazil call into question Antônio Francisco Lisboa’s (1730–1814) treatment as an icon of Brazil’s racial harmony through peaceful miscegenation, revealing much about the ideologies involved in previous depictions of the artist. In turn, these ideologies influence contemporary notions of race and nation in Brazil and in Latin American studies as a field. I will analyze four authors’ depictions of Lisboa as they relate to the celebration of Brazil’s mulato national identity: Austrian historian Stefan Zweig, Brazilian art historian Rodrigo José Ferreira Bretas, American essayist Waldo Frank, and Colombian author of historical fiction Manuel Zapata Olivella. Bretas was the first historian on record to write about the Aleijadinho (Little Cripple), as Lisboa is commonly known, and his depictions [End Page 183] of the artist’s life and identity are the basis of future authors’ interpretations of the artist’s racial identity. I chose Zweig and Zapata Olivella because their depictions of the artist both emphasize his race, though they differ greatly in how it relates to the history of the Brazilian nation. Frank’s version of the Aleijadinho story serves as a link between these two, and it reveals some of the innovations in U.S. Latin American studies of a mostly unsung academic hero. Of these authors, only Bretas offers the insight of a native Brazilian and speaker of Portuguese. Most had limited experience in the region, and their access to era archival sources was limited. Finally, these brief biographies of the Aleijadinho will be reinterpreted in light of contemporary historical research on race in Ouro Preto (Vila Rica) and the towns neighboring Minas Gerais that were deeply marked by the artist’s work and legend. These studies include Júnia Ferreira Furtado’s Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century (2009), and works by Mariana L. R. Dantas.
An Exiled Garimpeiro Panning for Hope in a Newborn Nation
In 1938, in an attempt to create a national identity through history for local and global consumption, strongman Getúlio Vargas’s government contracted Stefan Zweig to write Brazil: A Land of the Future (1941).1 Zweig was an Austrian Jew who had gained renown in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe and the United States for his biographies of artists, philosophers, and political figures (Three Masters: Balzac, Dickens, Dostoefsky , Nietzsche , The Queen of Scots , Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan ). He also published Decisive Moments in History (1927), so he was potentially an ideal ambassador of Brazilian history to the outside world. However, Hitler’s rise to power sent him into exile in 1934, first to Britain, then to the United States in 1940. Despite its government’s flirtation with some aspects of fascism, his move to Brazil in 1941 seems to have represented not only an enticing job opportunity for Zweig, but also a place of refuge from the perils of the war in Europe.
Brazilian “racial democracy” posits that, unlike U.S. slavery and its tragic ramifications, the institution in Brazil was much more humane and flexible, [End Page 184] and that after centuries of miscegenation, the nation no longer suffered from interracial conflict because there could no longer be race-based prejudice. The most famous proponent of this ideology is the historian Gilberto Freyre, who presented his largely romanticized vision of the Pernambucan sugar plantation to an international audience in his Casa-grande e senzala (The Masters and the Slaves, 1981 ).2 As the date suggests, Freyre was writing during the apex of two political and intellectual ideologies, eugenics and nationalism, both of which were integral philosophical components of World War Two. In Brazil, Getúlio Vargas, building on the oligarchy’s disillusionment with the Old Republic (1890–1930) and, eventually, the economic gains of Depression Era import substitution, was forging the Estado Novo through rapid industrialization and “modernization” projects (Chasteen 2001, 229, 325). Though Brazil would eventually be an important U...