Archives for posts with tag: Brazilian colonial baroque

Parati is a historic town set on the edge of the Mata Atlantica, the Atlantic rain forest, on the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro. First settled by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, it became the port for shipping gold and diamonds from the interior to Rio and on to Portugal. Miners, supplies and slaves travelled by mule train into the state of Minas Gerais (MG, `General Mines`) by the same route, the Caminho do Ouro, running along an indigenous path. Parati offered a break in the escarpment of the 1,500 kilometre Serra do Mar, and a natural harbour.

Gracious living in Parati

Gracious living in Parati

The town grew into a substantial settlement, with a good number of churches, and forts to protect it – the gold-laden ships were a target for pirates operating from the many nearby islands and beaches.

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor Perpétuo

Parati’s economic fortunes have risen and fallen, its relative isolation preserving the Baroque architecture which underpins its revival as a tourist destination.

Entrance to Casa Turquesa

Entrance to hotel Casa Turquesa

Baroque luxury raises an echo in Parati’s restaurants and antique shops, and modern luxury is also in evidence.

Restaurante Refugio

Restaurante Refugio

Its cobbled streets are hard going on foot, and motor vehicles are allowed only on Wednesdays, for deliveries. Horse-drawn carts carry supplies and tourists over the cobbles.

Cobbled streets at a leisurely pace

Cobbled streets, at a leisurely pace

You could be back in the eighteenth century, though many of the town houses are now shops, restaurants and business premises.

Working tourist town

Working tourist town

Like Ouro Preto, the much larger Baroque town at the other end of the Caminho do Ouro, Parati allows you to see domestic Baroque architecture in operation. White-washed walls are thick – some with sandstone mouldings – decorated with stucco and paint, roofs of clay pantiles, and wooden floors above the ground floor flagstones.

Baroque cooling

Baroque air conditioner

Only the churches are higher than two stories. Rooms are high-ceilinged, window-frames painted in powder blue or grey.

Tidal canal

Tidal canal

Parati is set just below sea level in a river delta, with breaks in the sea wall which allow high tides to flood some streets. Flooding was once the only form of sanitation, and given the horses, it’s still a good thing, though it doesn’t smell entirely clean.

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

The river to the north of the historic town centre provides a cool corridor against the January heat.

Capela de Santa Rita

Capela de Santa Rita, completed 1722

Parati is undergoing renovation – two of its four historic churches are closed, and the SESC cultural centre is being refurbished. The elaborate Santa Rita church was built for the Portuguese and for freed slaves.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito, 1725

The Rosário, built for the slave population, has a much simpler facade, and its corner mouldings are of painted stucco, not sandstone.

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores, 1800

Nossa Senhora das Dores – Our Lady of Sorrows – is an elegant little building on the Rua Fresca sea front. It was used by society ladies, and renovated in 1900. Behind the church is a walled church yard. The church was closed when we were there, with no sign of when it opens.

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remédios

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, completed 1873

Nossa Senhora dos Remédios is large and central, with a tree-lined square in front, and a campanile for its clock. It’s structurally simple, a series of lean-tos, and the interior is modest by Brazilian standards. 

Largest church in Parati

Largest church in Parati

Painted marble-effect mouldings and painted walls – which look like wallpaper – saints in glassed-in niches, and sober monochrome floor tiles all make for a subdued interior.

Painted chancel walls

Painted chancel walls

This looks a middle-class church, presumably built on the coffee trade which replaced the gold shipments.

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

Another active trade in Parati was the cachaça industry. A few small producers are still distilling this spirit from sugar cane – Parati was well-known for it. These days the best cachaça is said to come from the state of Minas Gerais, though it is still actively retailed to tourists in Parati. Proving the point, we found a large retailer whose display included a collection of old bottles from Parati …

Cachaça museum

Cachaça museum

… and a collection of miniatures – a smart way to sell to the souvenir market – which were overwhelmingly Mineiro.

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Parati understandably promotes and preserves its former glory, but there’s a faint echo of other sentiments.

The land on which the historic centre is built was donated by a Senhora Maria Jácome de Melo on condition that a church dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios was built … and that the local indigenous Guaianá were unharmed.

Santa Rita is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young 19th-century bride found dead on her wedding morning. The groom reportedly went mad, having begged for the coffin to be opened. When years later the coffin was actually opened, the corpse was face down, a punishment meant to prevent the soul leaving the body through the mouth.

A smaller church in Parati, the Capela da Generosa, was funded by a local woman in memory of a Teodoro who is said to have drowned in the Rio Perequê-Açu while impiously fishing on Good Friday.

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Standing on the Rua Fresca and recalling that it was the rich who enjoyed the sea breeze, that the streets were awash with sewage, that a slave who tried to escape could only could take the heavily-patrolled Caminho do Ouro through the rainforest or the sea road controlled by cannon and pirates, that the indigenous people were subject to the Europeans, that even Christian salvation was markedly stratfied, you sense a less pretty view of the Baroque town, driven by the greed for gold, by violence and military rule, by slavery and oppression.

It seems fitting that a vampire wedding – from the Twilight saga – can be filmed here. And this week in Parati, a shooting amid Carnaval celebrations …  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/carnival-suspended-paraty-brazil-deadly-shooting-28988156

The Church and Convent of São Francisco (Convento e Igreja de São Francisco) in Salvador is a well-known tourist destination – its gilt woodcarving is deliberately and overpoweringly impressive. You may have seen it in Michael Palin’s recent BBC documentary series on Brazil. A church of the Franciscan monastic order, the current buildings were begun in 1686 (the convent) and 1708 (the church) though decoration of the interiors continued through the first half of the 18th century.

Praça Anchieta, Pelourinho, Salvador de Bahia

The church is set at the end of a long narrow square – named for one of the first Jesuit missionaries to Brasil in the 16th century, José de Anchieta  – off the main square in Pelourinho, the historic town centre.

The cross on the praça is a 19th century addition.

Its facade is in the early baroque style, with large elaborate volutes which support the central gable, and make the composition a little top-heavy …

Central gable flanked by campanile towers with mother-of-pearl tiles

… though it works well close up. You enter via a porch to the right.

Painted perspective on the ceiling of the porch.

Built between 1749 and 1755, the porch is an impressive piece of interior decor, with panels painted on wood, and a striking illusionist ceiling painted by José Joaquim da Rocha in 1774. It’s a bravura display of skill in baroque composition, albeit in paint. Panels in blue and white tile work (azulejos) are a 1782 addition.

Cloisters of the Franciscan monastery, with salvaged stone

From this dark paneled and painted chamber, you emerge into a cloistered stone courtyard lit by a fiercely blue sky. It’s as though you’ve traveled three centuries from inside a Renaissance cabinet of curiosities to step into a surrealist Giorgio de Chirico painting.

The inner walls of the cloister are decorated with azulejo tile panels based on the work of 17th century Flemish artist Otto van Veen, who produced engravings illustrating epigrams from Roman poet Horace.

“Estarás seguro se viveres bem.”

The choices are gloomy and perhaps inevitably sententious – there is much brooding on death and the fate of sinners, as well as on the virtue of knowing your place and of being thrifty. The tiles are held in place by crude repairs and patches in places – an unintentional effect is to underline the ‘tempus fugit’ theme, but sometimes the effect is comic too.

Scrambled sage

The worthy scholar’s confused mien is understandable – he looks like he’s trapped in a sliding number puzzle.

This looks like an architectural salvage yard.

Tile collage

Van Veen taught Pieter Paul Rubens for a number of years, and produced a number of ’emblem books’ which influenced and served as source material for many later artists.

However bright the skies, nothing can prepare you for the blinding interior of the church, said to be the best example of the igreja dourada or ‘golden church’ style of Brazilian colonial baroque.

Nave with side chapel and pulpit, Igreja de São Francisco, Salvador da Bahia

The splendour of the surfaces, the elaborateness of the carving, the spiralling columns, the profusion of decoration on every available surface, the almost total absence of straight unadorned line, even the choice of complementary colours – white and blue – all are designed to overwhelm the worshipper with the gilded glory of this church.

I found myself looking for a more restful surface on which to focus. The ceiling over the altar was a little quieter.

Gilded painted vault with cherubim over the altar

The nave ceiling was heavily decorated too, but with less gilt.

No rest for the eye

Even the chiaroscuro of a bright window offered some respite from the blazing glory of the dourada style.

Beautifully carved and decorated oriole window high up in the nave

Your eye may alight and rest on the dark lustre of carved jacarandá wood, the work of Frei Luis de Jesus ‘The Woodcarver’, for which this church is also justly famous.

Finial on railing of side chapel

If your eye falls below the handrail, you may wonder how or indeed why the monks were able to decorate their church with such voluptuous sway-backed acolytes.

Dark beauty

At the altar the caryatids are fair and gilded, with pink hands and faces.

Upholding the word of God

And above the altar an unusual crucifix, after the image by the Spanish painter Murillo, shows Jesus embracing founder St Francis of Assisi.

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/bartolome-esteban-murillo/saint-francis-of-assisi-embracing-the-crucified-christ

But wait, even allowing for fervent religious imagination, no one swept up at the Crucifixion …

Do my eyes deceive me?

High up on the altar, a workman calmly and carefully sweeps up the dust. Another man was going around replacing light bulbs. I found myself resting my eyes on their activity.You welcome such visual interest in the goldstorm of this interior.

Man at work

My perception was truly confused – was this holy water font, donated by Dom João V of Portugal (‘O Magnânimo‘), golden or not? Deliberately chosen no doubt to allude to the dourada style, it is made of yellow conglomerate. Dom João also donated the Horace / van Veen azulejos.

One of a pair at the entrance to the church

When you learn that a fifth of each ton extracted from the gold and diamond mines of Brasil was crown property – Portugal is said to have collected more gold over a few decades than Spain took from the rest of Central and South America over 400 years – and that Dom João was also known as O Freirático because of his preference for nuns as sexual partners, the interior of this church comes into clearer focus.

Dowry donation boxes

Brasilians are philosophical about such cultural history. This piece of furniture in the sacristy was used as a kind of ecclesiastical safety deposit box, where the fathers of prospective brides placed money for their daughters’ dowries and presumably for the cost of their weddings. No visitors to the church were surprised that behind the regularity of its squared facade, some doors gave onto bigger boxes than others.

In 1742 Dom João suffered a stroke which left him, the erstwhile Prince of Brasil, politically ineffectual. He spent the last years of his life, the time of his donations to this church, devoted to religious activities.

Unintended humour of labeled statue in the vestibule, with Biblical Golden Calf behind

The relaxed attitude – now and during his reign –  of Brasilians to religious life is at one with the syncretist version of Catholicism tinged with west African Yoruba traditions which continues to grow in Brasil today. Is this statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception actually standing on a crescent moon, like the Yoruba goddess Iemenja?

Brasil’s culture swirls with fascinating cross-currents – the Franciscan Igreja de São Francisco faces the Jesuit Catedral Basílica de Salvador across the square, for all the world like rival football clubs. Both are in a district, Pelourinho, named for the public pillory or whipping post used for punishing African Brasilian slaves “pour encourager les autres”. Brasilians accept such seeming contradictions easily.

” … it is in giving that we receive … ” (Prayer of St Francis)

The irony of a church named for a saint the basis of whose Rule was poverty being decorated with an estimated 960 kilograms of golf leaf – not to mention the dormant power of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where the public education system is by common consent a shambles, political corruption is endemic (see

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20373040

for an example) and the gap between rich and poor significant – is a little harder to accept.

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