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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rodolfo Amoedo

Municipal Theater, Rio de Janeiro, Rodolfo Amoedo,
 where he painted several of the panels.

Jesus in the Garden of Olives,
1917, Rodolfo Amoedo
Rodolfo Amoedo was a Brazilian artist (below), born in 1857. That tells us surprisingly little about the man. First of all despite some effort on my part in recent weeks, very few people know much about Brazilian art or artists. In fact, they probably know only a little more about the country, though that will soon be remedied by the arrival of the Olympic Torch in Brazil this summer. And if people know very little about Brazil or Brazilian art I think it would be safe to say they know far less about the Brazilian people. Aside from a little Amazon rainforest stereotyping and the fact that all of South America and its arts are heavily burdened (or gifted) by European culture, religion, legal, and social influences, most Americans, and I dare say most other people around the world, know next to nothing about the Brazilian people. Moreover, its all but impossible to "know" any nation's art and no so little about that country's people.
Self-portraits by Rodolfo Amoedo.
I don't usually burden readers interested in art with a great deal of history. I even try keeping the art history to a reasonable minimum. However you can't begin to understand the Brazilian people (or their art) without a dose of world history. Back about the Renaissance, around 1480 to 1520, two European rival nations were hot on the path to discovering maritime sea routes to India and the islands of the far east. They were looking for gold first of all, but found instead, something we take for granted today, but in that time was worth its weight in gold--spices--mostly cinnamon and clove, among others. The Portuguese sailed east, the Spanish (starting with Columbus) sailed west. The Portuguese found their precious spices, the Spanish found their precious gold. And that's when the trouble began. The lands in this "New World" had first been divided north and south by a papal treaty signed by the two nations as early as 1479. The Portuguese got all lands south of the Canary Islands, while Spain got everything to the north. The problem was that everything Columbus claimed for Spain was south of the Canary Islands. Thus, Portugal claimed, much of the new world belonged to them, not their Iberian neighbor. The king of Portugal threatened to go to war to prove his point.
A world map from around 1500 indicating how little was known
about the enormous area being divided between Spain and Portugal.
Pope Alexander VI (the infamous Rodrigo Borgia), who was Spanish by birth, could not countenance having two Catholic countries at each other's throats. His attempt to avoid war would be comical if it weren't so far-reaching. In 1493 he decreed that all lands west and south of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west of the Azores (Cape Verde Islands) should belong to Spain. Portugal wasn't even mentioned so that country could not claim newly discovered lands even if they were east of the line. Needless to say, Portuguese King John II was not pleased with that arrangement, feeling that it gave him far too little land, even preventing him from possessing India, his near-term goal. By 1493, Portuguese explorers had already reached the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese were unlikely to go to war over the islands claimed by Columbus, but India was another matter. When the Borgia Pope refused to make changes, the Portuguese king went straight to the source, Spain's Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, to negotiate moving the line to the west, allowing him to claim newly discovered lands east of the line. They struck a bargain (the Treaty of Tordesillas line, below) which moved the line 270 leagues west, protecting the Portuguese route down the coast of Africa and, almost by accident, giving the Portuguese rights to lands that now constitute the Eastern quarter of Brazil.
What the line divided on a modern map.
It's often referred to as the Papal Line of Demarcation,
though the Pope (Julius II) had little to do with it.
The amusing element in all this is that none of the explorers, popes, monarchs, and diplomats knew enough about New World geography to know what the hell they were talking about. Very little of the newly divided area had actually been seen by Europeans. Moreover, their treaties only specified the line of demarcation in leagues from the Cape Verde Islands. It did not specify the line in degrees; it did not identify the specific island, nor the specific length of its league (the measurement being used). Instead, the treaty stated that these matters were to be settled by a joint voyage (which never occurred). In their presumptuous division of the entire New World in half (the size of which they could only make educated guesses), Spain accidentally got by far the better end of the deal, gaining most of the Americas (north and south), though in 1494 neither had much proven wealth. The easternmost part of current Brazil was granted to Portugal when, in 1500, Pedro Álvarez Cabral landed there while he was en route to India.  

The Tupi tribes were no match for the Portuguese or their smallpox.
If that (silly as it was) comprised the whole story, understanding the Brazilian people and their art would be relatively simple. However, when Cabral landed along the eastern coast of South America the welcoming party was comprised of a native nation called the Tupi, which were something like a million strong--an agricultural population almost equal to that of Portugal at the time. The second complicating factor involved the fact that virtually all the Portuguese explorers and (later) settlers were men. As one might guess, men being men, and Portuguese women not so inclined to join their male counterparts, the two races began to mix. Add to that the ensuing smallpox devastation of the natives and the spread of Catholicism in an effort to combat cannibalism (the degree of which is somewhat conjectural), as well as a strong tendency on the part of the Portuguese toward polygamy, and you have what is, in essence, a whole new race, since termed the Mameluco--Brazilians.
The Last Tamoio, 1887, Rodolfo Amoedo

Bust of Adelaide Amoedo,
1892, the artist's wife.
Rodolfo Amoedo was a Mamelucan, though by 1857, the term was seldom used. Although his exact lineage is unknown, Amoedo was well aware of his heritage as seen in one of his more important paintings, The Last Tamoio (above) dating from 1883 (the Tamoio were one of the last lingering tribes of Tupi, red area on the map). Amoedo was born in Salvador, Bahia, (southern) Brazil. He died in Rio de Janeiro in May of 1941 at the age of eighty-four. He was a Brazilian history painter though his areas of expertise extended to portraits, religious scenes (bottom) and genre. He began studying art in 1873 as a student, winning a scholarship to the Brazilian Acad-emy in 1878. He won the first prize at the Brazilian Academy the following year, which allowed him to travel to Paris. There he lived for the next eight years studying at the École des Beaux Arts. He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel. Upon returning to Brazil in 1887, Amoedo became a professor and later director of the Brazilian Academy. He died largely forgotten and so poor his friends had to help his widow, Adelaide (above, left) pay for his funeral. His paintings still hang at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Though not listed as such, probably paintings of Amoedo's son.
Jesus Christ in Capernaum, 1883, Rodolfo Amoedo

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