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The rebirth of São Paulo’s baroque tradition

Recovery of artwork, artists and documents expands our understanding of São Paulo’s expression of this style

LÉO RAMOS CHAVES Igreja do Carmo, in São Paulo: painting by Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo in the nave …LÉO RAMOS CHAVES

A joint effort by academic researchers, professional art restorers and experts from the public sector and companies has resulted in the discovery of works of art, artists and documents from the São Paulo baroque era that have remain hidden, unknown or stored away for more than a century.  The original drawings, shapes and colors are emerging as churches are being restored and more recent paintings removed, revealing works of greater artistic and historical value.  The findings are redefining the value of São Paulo expressions of this art style, which is more visible in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro where it flourishes. Characterized by elaborate shapes and keen religiosity, baroque art shaped the first three centuries of Brazil’s colonization by the Europeans.

In 2011, as a result of a project begun by the National Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), paintings dating back to 1796 and 1797, by Santos priest Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo (1764-1819) have reappeared on the ceilings of the chancel and nave of the Igreja da Venerável Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Carmo [Church of the Venerable Third Order of Our Lady of Carmel], in the city center of São Paulo. Shortly before his death, São Paulo writer Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) notified authorities of the probable existence of the painting in the church’s central nave, which had been painted over.  Now exposed, the original image depicts the Blessed Mother surrounded by angels, clouds, and along the edge of the ceiling, 2.20 meter (m) tall Carmelites. Mário de Andrade never knew why the original painting had been concealed.

Art historian Danielle Pereira, a researcher in the Barroco Memória Viva [Baroque Living Memory] group of the Art Institute of São Paulo State University (Unesp) in São Paulo, believes she has discovered what the São Paulo writer did not know.  For the past seven years, she has been engaged in a pilgrimage through the archives of churches and public agencies, examining nearly 22,000 pages of 600 old books to find unpublished documents about the paintings and their artists. From these documents, she was able to confirm that the work by Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo was not the original, but rather the third—the ceilings containing the two previous works by artists would have been removed—and she found the reason behind the exchange in paintings, a fact that had puzzled Mário de Andrade. “The Carmelites changed the décor of the entire church to suit the tastes of the time and not fall behind the other religious orders, no matter the cost,” Pereira said. “The idea that São Paulo baroque was worthless and artless is misplaced.”

LÉO RAMOS CHAVES …and the Crucified Christ, both from the 18th centuryLÉO RAMOS CHAVES

Artist and art historian Percival Tirapeli, author of 20 books on Brazilian art and coordinator of the Unesp art research group, looks up at the ceiling of the Igreja do Carmo and says: “We spent four years using a scalpel to remove recent layers of paint.” Behind the altar stands the 1746 wood sculpture of unknown authorship entitled Senhor morto [Dead Lord], which has also been restored, and which Tirapelo considers “one of the most beautiful sculptures in São Paulo baroque art.” Nearly 30 kilometers (km) away from the city center, at the Capela de São Miguel Arcanjo [Saint Michael the Archangel Chapel], one of São Paulo’s oldest, erected in 1622, the group found a rare perspective painting of the altar that had been hidden for decades by another wooden altar, built nearly 150 years later.

Unexpected works of art also emerged at the mother church of Nossa Senhora da Candelária [Our lady of Candelária] in the city of Itu, 101 km from the capital, the largest baroque church in the state of São Paulo. It was built in 1780 and has been undergoing restoration since 2001. Upon the recommendation of musician Luís Roberto de Francisco, a researcher at the city’s Museum of Music, the restoration teams salvaged six planks of wood, depicting one of the scenes of the Christ’s passion.  Covered by a layer of lime, they probably held the original ceiling paintings of the church that had been used to protect a clock tower.  They were done by Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo—and no one knew about them.

In 2015, the restoration teams found paintings in blue on the walls of the chancel of the mother church in Itu, previously covered by decades of paint.  There was a date, 1788, and a signature that this time revealed unknown artist Mathias Teixeira da Silva, about whom little was known.  Research into this artist, conducted by Iphan historian Carlos Gutierrez Cerqueira, has led to the identification of sculptor Bartolomeu Teixeira Guimarães (1738-?) as the artist behind the monumental altar, measuring 12 m in height by 6 m in width.  Emerging as well were signs of collaboration between Guimarães and José Patrício da Silva Manso (1753-1801), the artist of the painting on the ceiling and teacher of Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo, pointing to connections between the artists and their works.  Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo did paintings found in three other churches in Itu: Igreja do Carmo, Nossa Senhora do Patrocínio [Our Lady of Patronage] and Igreja do Bom Jesus [Church of the Good Shepherd].

Revitalized ideas
“We’re doing away with the preconceived notion that São Paulo baroque was worthless and unimpressive,” says restorer Júlio Moraes, owner of a restoration company.  He began working on São Paulo baroque in 1990, when he restored the 1681 chapel from a site in São Roque, not far from the capital, bequeathed to Iphan by Mário de Andrade. “There are actually many more artists and works of art than previously thought,” he adds, confirming the predictions he had received from his art professors at the University of São Paulo (USP) in the mid-1970s. In 2001, Moraes and his team restored the ceiling painting of the chancel in the Igreja da Candelária in Itu, where he returned in 2014 to care for other works of art.

“This entrance was painted entirely gray,” Tirapelo says as he enters the church of the Ordem Terceira de São Francisco [Third Order of Saint Francis], on Largo do São Francisco, in the capital, built between 1676 and 1787. “Everything was falling apart.” Closed for many years, the church was largely restored using funds from companies under what is known as Brazil’s Rouanet Law (intended to encourage investments to help finance cultural projects) and the Council for the Defense of the Historical, Archaeological, Artistic and Touristic Heritage (Condephaat). Visitors today can see the doors painted in bright colors and the altar, completed 1792, sparkling with a gilding “unlike anything ever seen in Brazil,” he says.  The walls of the chancel display 10 exquisite religious paintings from the first half of the 18th century, 2.2 m in height, that were covered by blackish residue until a few years ago.  According to him, these paintings were done in Portuguese studios and “attest to the Italian influence in Brazilian baroque,” in addition to hinting at the Church’s buying power.

Pereira identified 56 painters who worked in churches in São Paulo, Itu and Mogi das Cruzes between 1750 and 1827. As a result, the most well-known São Paulo artists—Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo and José Patrício da Silva Manso—are joined by others such as Lourenço da Costa de Macedo, Antonio dos Santos and Manuel do Sacramento, who painted the ceilings of the vestibule, the chancel and the nave of the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo [Church of the Third Order of Carmel] in Mogi das Cruzes, as described in an article published in the journal Caiana from the Argentine Center for Art Investigators in 2016.  Pereira also identified a rare female painter, Miquelina Constância das Chagas, who in the 19th century gilded the six altars of the Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco [Church of the Third Order of Saint Francis], in São Paulo. While our understanding of the artworks and professional trajectories of the baroque artists is growing, their personal details such as dates of birth and death, are still vague.

léo ramos chaves At the church of the Ordem Terceira de São Francisco, in São Paulo, the 1792 altar returned to its original glory after restorationléo ramos chaves

In another study by the group from Unesp, architect Rafael Schunk recovered two little-known artists: the Portuguese priest Agostinho da Piedade (1580-1661) and his student Agostinho de Jesus (1600-1661), who lived and worked in the Paraíba Valley. Schunk considers Agostinho de Jesus “the first Brazilian artist.” It was after him that came the other, more well-known, Brazilian baroque artists: Antônio Francisco Lisboa (1738-1814)—aka Aleijadinho—and Manuel da Costa Ataíde (1762-1830), in Minas Gerais, and Valentim da Fonseca e Silva (1745-1813), in Rio de Janeiro.

Art historian Maria José Passos, a professor at Cruzeiro do Sul University (Unicsul), identified more baroque works than she expected to find as she visited 79 churches in 47 cities throughout the state of São Paulo as part of her doctoral studies, completed at Unesp in 2015 (see map). Some 10 religious sculptures at least 200 years old had been stored with no identification in closets, sacristies or warehouses.  Others got lost. “Most of the pieces are not properly catalogued,” she noted.

Passos became intrigued every time she saw sculptures with glass eyes that were unlike others in the collections, especially in the Paraíba Valley, although they were still considered baroque. Unesp researcher and restorer Cristiana Cavaterra provided the answer: many of these works had been done by Italian artist Marino Del Favero (1864-1943). Favero moved to Brazil at age 28 and opened a studio for sacred sculpture and altars in São Paulo’s city center. He advertised his work in newspapers, listed them for sale in catalogues and took orders from São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul, pushing a portion of baroque into the early 20th century. Art historians claim that baroque art formally ended with The Last Supper, painted by Costa Ataíde at Colégio do Caraça, in Minas Gerais, in 1828.

léo ramos chaves Art restorer Ana Cristina Jacinto recovers the sculpture of São João Evangelista [Saint John the Evangelist] at the church of Candelária em Ituléo ramos chaves

It is estimated that over 50 years, the Italian artist produced some 300 altars such as those of the mother church of Pindamonhangaba and a chapel in São Luiz do Paraitinga, both in São Paulo State, and in a church in Maria da Fé, in Minas Gerais, in addition to nearly a thousand sculptures of varying sizes. “Even with production on an industrial scale, he considered himself an artist and ensured the quality of what he produced with his team,” says Cavaterra. “His personal taste and the influence of the Italian masters took precedence in his work.”

More recent studies and discoveries indicate that São Paulo produced fewer works of art than states such as Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro or Bahia.  The walls of the churches in the capital and inland São Paulo were mainly made of stucco, with minimalist décor while in other states they were of stone and richly adorned. “The white walls stand in contrast to a colorful altar,” Moraes says. “It was not possible to cover everything in gold, but they sometimes used silver, which came from Bolívia, like in Itu.”

léo ramos chaves The altar, ceiling and walls of the main chapel of the Candelária have been restored…léo ramos chaves

As cities in São Paulo—especially the capital—began to grow at a faster rate from the 19th century on, baroque art differed markedly from the urban landscape in the eyes of artist Emanoel Araújo, director of São Paulo’s Afro-Brazil Museum: “There is a spartan side to São Paulo.” As director of the Pinacoteca of the state of São Paulo from1992 to 2002, he promoted exhibitions that expanded the visibility of Brazilian baroque art.  In 1998, Araújo curated the exhibit O universo mágico do barroco brasileiro [The Magical Universe of Brazilian Baroque], displaying 364 pieces from 1640 to 1820 at the FIESP Cultural Center.


According to Tirapeli, the exhibitions and the publication of books on baroque art (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 90) in recent years have renewed interest on the part of experts and public agencies for the need for artistic restoration of works of art from Brazil’s colonial period.  As a result of this mobilization, 10 churches in the state have been restored to their original colors and luster, such as the mother church of Itu, the churches of Ordem Terceira do Carmo, Saint Francis, the Boa Morte [Good Death] and Santo Antônio [Saint Anthony] in the city of São Paulo; the church of Candelária, in Itu; the ancient basilica of Nossa Senhora da Aparecida [Our Lady of Aparecida] in Aparecida; and the mother church of Jacareí.

léo ramos chaves …but work on the arched entrance continuesléo ramos chaves

“Much was lost while São Paulo baroque was less valued,” says art historian Mozart Costa, a professor of artistic restoration at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-SP) and the City University of São Paulo. Cerqueira, of Iphan, had read reports about 45 rural São Paulo chapels from the 17th century and went looking for them, but found only two. “The time has come to invest as heavily in the restoration of works of art as Iphan has been investing in restoring the architecture of the churches for 80 years,” he says. “There is still so much to be done.”

Although there is renewed interest in São Paulo baroque, investment is lacking.  On the walls of one corridor of the church of the Ordem Terceira do Carmo are 19 paintings by Jesuíno do Monte Carmelo that are nearly covered by black residue. It would cost nearly R$50,000 each to restore them and since there is no money, no date has been set to begin such work.

Authors of illusionist paintings of the State of São Paulo: São Paulo, Itu and Mogi das Cruzes (nº 13/04082-1); Grant Mechanism Doctoral grant; Principal Investigator Percival Tirapeli (Unesp); Grant Recipient Danielle Manoel dos Santos Pereira; Investment R$ 168,710.49.

Scientific article
PEREIRA, D. M. S. Pintura setecentista na igreja da Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Carmo em Mogi das Cruzes (SP-Brasil). Caiana—Revista Virtual de Historia del Arte y Cultura Visual. V. 8, No.1, p. 105-20, 2016.

TIRAPELI, P. Arquitetura e urbanismo no Vale do Paraíba. São Paulo: Editora Unesp/Sesc, 2014. 250 p.