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Art and Culture

“Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question,” poet Oswald de Andrade famously asked, and this bilingual ironic wordplay demonstrates the existential dilemma of Brazil’s artists, torn between their African, Amerindian, and European roots. Capitalizing on their cultural diversity, Rio’s artists have made a significant impact in shaping Brazil’s heritage—noteworthy Rio de Janeiro highlights being the Baroque churches and Modernist buildings, world-class literature, and a wide range of remarkable music.


Colonial Architecture

The early colonial architecture has not survived Rio de Janeiro’s various facelifts. One building that survived these transformations because of its royal connections and thus provides the best illustration of early colonial architecture in Rio de Janeiro is the Paço Imperial. This was built in 1743 by the Portuguese architect José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim (1700–1765) for Rio’s governor Gomes Freire de Andrade. After 1767 it was used by the viceroys of Brazil and later, temporarily, by the royal family as the imperial palace.

It is mostly in the coffee plantations in the valley of the Rio Paraíba that visitors can find examples of the so-called colonial architecture, in fact an adaptation of the urban architecture to the rural environment. Even so, by the time the houses were erected the coffee barons had largely abandoned the traditional style of the 17C and 18C sugar engenhos, which consisted mainly of large, sober, plain bungalows. The plan of the coffee farms was organized in the form of a square: the casa-grande, residence of the proprietor; an open yard for the drying of the beans; warehouses where coffee was stored; and finally, the senzala, the slave quarters. Although ample and grand, the houses were rather crude due to lack of proper materials and specialist manpower. They were built quickly by slaves practicing half-timbered “pau-a-pique” techniques using stones and adobe walls based on wooden frames. The facades, the doors, and the windows tended to the Neo-classical style, which was in vogue at the time, while the interior decoration consisted of imported wallpaper and large paintings with themes of classical antiquity. It is typical of 18C rural architecture that can still be encountered in the gold mining towns of Minas Geráis: two levels, with the top floor dominated by large ornamented windows and balconies with railings, inner courtyards, thick wooden doors and ceilings. What identified the Paço Imperial as a weighty building is the central three-story marble baroque portal that towers over the surroundings and, one imagines, the rest of the 19C city.

Baroque and Rococo

These styles appeared much later than in Europe and of all the forms of artistic manifestation, it was in religious art and architecture that Baroque and especially Rococo found their most profound expression. This is hardly surprising: since Baroque had been affirmed as the religious art of the Counter-Reformation as a backlash against Protestant purity, it was through the Catholic church that it was introduced in Brazil in places where there were enough faithful to justify the expense: first in the northeast (Bahia and Pernambuco) and later in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Geráis.

There are three distinct stages of evolution of Baroque in Brazil. Originally (1549–1640) the anonymous artisans looked to reproduce the European standards and prescriptions without, however, using proper materials. The results were poor imitations with little artistic merit; therefore, any interest in the buildings and artifacts tends to be purely historical. The second phase can be placed between the Bragança Restoration (1640), and the move of the capital of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro (1763). This corresponds to the belated evolution of Mannerist style and the introduction of Baroque. The discovery of gold and the ensuing riches brought many Portuguese artists to Brazil, thus raising the quality and creative standards. Finally, from the second half of the 18C until the arrival of the French Mission in 1816, the wealth generated by the gold reached its apex. As lay fraternities—the “third orders”—competed with each other in extravagance, this period also coincides with the pinnacle of Brazilian Rococo that manifested itself in several distinct styles.

The architectural model adopted by the Company of Jesus was based on simple and austere lines. The general plan included a rectangular patio, which was surrounded by the church itself, the college, the workshops, and the Jesuit residences. The aim was the education and instruction of the natives: there was ample space in front, the terreiro, which became the origin of many squares in the country. The church that epitomizes this style in the state of Rio de Janeiro is that of São Pedro d’Aldeia: a single nave without pillars serves as a large congregation room with plenty of light, good acoustics, and an altar visible from every angle.

The Franciscans built large monasteries surrounded by covered galleries but, as the orders became richer, they built adjoining churches. One such case in point is Rio’s Church of São Francisco da Penitência by the convent of Santo Antônio—despite the members’ wealth, the whole complex maintains the ascetic character of the monastical brotherhood.

The constructions of the Jesuits and the Franciscans were stern and simple, whereas the Carmelite and the Benedictine orders built churches heavily laden with gold decorations, appealing as much to the emotions of the faithful as displaying the ostentatiousness of their paymasters. Indeed, the later Rococo structures are distinctly different from anything found in Portugal, having been built by second-generation artisans born and bred in Brazil who were isolated from the trends in Europe. The masterpiece of Carioca Baroque is the Monastery of São Bento, established 1617 and steadily extended and enriched over 200 years—whose rather plain, Mannerist exterior hides an opulent, heavily gilded, three-nave interior creating, as it is said, “a forest of gold.”

The later Rococo jewels are the church of Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro (1739) with its unusual entrance under a tower galley and, even more so, the two Carmelite churches: Nossa Senhora da Ordem Terceira do Monte do Carmo (1770) and the nearby recently-restored Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antiga Sé (1761) with its remarkable silver altar, which served as Rio’s cathedral until the inauguration of the modernist Cathedral of São Sebastião in 1976.


Unlike previous movements, Neo-classicism appeared in Brazil at the same time as in Europe, with the arrival of the French Mission brought to Brazil by João VI in 1816, possibly the single most influential artistic incident in Brazil’s history. Afterward, under Emperor Pedro II, Neo-classicism acquired a patron with the depth of cultural appreciation and clout any architectural tendency requires in order to fully flourish. It was adopted as Rio de Janeiro’s main urban style: the building footprints grew, favoring the monumental; the roof tiles disappeared from view; the facades acquired a symmetry with rows of windows around a characteristically triangular portico with Doric, Tuscan, or Ionic columns on the ground floor while Corinthian ones were favored for the upper levels.

The Casa França-Brasil was the first Neo-classical building in Rio de Janeiro. Built in 1819 by Auguste Henri Victor Grandjean de Montigny, its influence was immense and can be readily seen in the buildings that followed: the old Pedro II Hospice, currently the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in Botafogo; the house of the Marquesa de Santos, currently Museu do Primeiro Reinado, in São Cristóvão; the Catete Palace, Brazil’s presidential lodgings from 1894 to 1960; and the Imperial Palace in Petrópolis, which is the best illustration of Neo-classicism outside the city of Rio de Janeiro itself, and also some stately homes in the Coffee Valley follow this style.

Some elements of 18C architecture continued to be used in some houses and one can sometimes see typically Colonial half-timbered “pau-a-pique” walls and sloping tiled roofs, next to typically Neo-classical Doric columns. The Rua do Comércio in the city of Paraty is an excellent demonstration of this mixture of two styles.


Eclecticism started to express itself in Rio de Janeiro toward the last quarter of the 19C until well into the beginning of the 20C. One of its characteristics was the juxtaposition of multiple styles on the same building with the predominant being either Italianate Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Neo-classical, or French Empire, which was particularly influential in the public domain. The graceful Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and the Theatro Municipal provide the standards of this latter style whose essential elements were mansard roofs, round arches, Corinthian pillars, and the alternation of linear and circular facades. Sadly a combination of modernist dogma and a lack of concern with the preservation of the monuments have conspired to flatten some of the best instances of Carioca Eclecticism such as the Monroe Palace at Praça Floriano—seat of the Senate until its move to Brasília—which was built in 1904–1906 and demolished after a long resistance campaign in 1976. Thankfully there are still some beautiful examples of this style in Rio de Janeiro, at Palacio Laranjeiras at Parque Guinle, and—some say the best example—the glamorous Copacabana Palace Hotel (1923), whose stylish façade, based on the Hotel Carlton in Cannes, brings a touch of French fin-de-siécle design to Rio’s most famous beach.

Private villas adopted varied European regional styles, according to the taste of their proprietors. They traveled to Europe—especially to the sanatoriums of Switzerland for health reasons—and admired the wooden chalets that were particularly suited to Rio’s climate, as well as the rustic dwellings of France and the Florentine or Venetian palazzos. As a result, more or less faithful reproductions appeared in the vicinity of Rio de Janeiro, especially in the city of Petrópolis, where visitors can stroll through whole streets of Alpine chalets with Neo-classical porticoes, giving a rather colorful “folly” character to these constructions.

The bright green Palacete da Ilha Fiscal, on the eponymous island of the Bay of Guanabara, is a superb example. Designed by Adolfo José Del Vecchio as a neo-Gothic chateau on the express orders of Pedro II so that “it matches the Serra do Mar views” behind it, this was the last great building built by slave labor and was inaugurated in April 1889, only months before the monarchy itself collapsed in Brazil.

Eclecticism ruled in Rio de Janeiro absolutely until the middle of the 1920s when it was partly replaced by its more avant-garde versions of Art Nouveau, with its decorative preference for flora, movement, and iron railings, and by Art Deco, with its more stylized curves, leaded glass, and ziggurats. The most famous Art Deco monument in Rio de Janeiro—maybe in the world—is, of course, the Cristo Redentor statue (1931) on Corcovado.

After the orgy of reconstruction in the 1960s and 1970s, it is a miracle that any Art Nouveau or Art Deco houses have survived. They can found in Urca on Rua Urbano Santos 26 and in Copacabana on the Ruas Ronald de Carvalho e Viveiros de Castro. Beautiful examples also shelter in the suburb of Flamengo, in Castelinho do Flamengo at 158 Flamengo Beach, now Cultural Center Oduvaldo Vianna Filho, built in 1916–1918 by the Italian architect Gino Copede; the Edifício Seabra at 88 Flamengo Beach, Rio’s first apartment block built in 1910 by Italian architect Mario Vodret, also nicknamed “The Carioca Dakota,” because of its resemblance to the Dakota Building in New York; and the Edifício Biarritz, the best known Art Deco Rio landmark at 268 Flamengo Beach, designed in the early 1940s by French architect Henri Sajous who also built the startling Igreja da Santíssima Trinidade at Rua Senador Vergueiro (1938). The Casa de Arte e Cultura Julieta da Serpa built in 1920, is a highlight which should be seen illuminated at night to fully appreciate its French style.


Ironically, as the French Mission defined Neo-classical public architecture and the Swiss chalets influenced buildings in the private sphere, it was French–Swiss architect, Le Corbusier (1887–1965), who spawned the biggest artistic revolution that occurred in Brazil in the 20C.

In 1936 a group of young architects under Lúcio Costa (1902–1998) was given the task of designing the new headquarters of the Ministry of Education and Health.

The resulting Capanema Palace exemplified a new architecture characterized by the employment of metallic structures, the front “wall of glass,” and the just-discovered reinforced concrete. In the same year Le Corbusier came to Rio de Janeiro for a series of lectures based on his functionalist theories that would fire up Brazil’s architectural minds. From that point on Modernist architecture became an expression of the national culture, looking to interpret Le Corbusier’s principles in a Brazilian accent, adopting the futuristic as a sign of the country’s forward progress.

Le Corbusier’s most illustrious pupil was Oscar Niemeyer (b. 1907), one of the biggest Modernist names in 20C architecture, whose curvilinear concrete creations reveal his unique blend of Brazilian baroque with the modernist imagination. Carioca born and bred, he graduated from the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes in 1934 and worked with Lúcio Costa from 1937 to 1943. Extremely prolific, by the 1970s he had completed 600 projects on four continents including the United Nations building in New York (with Le Corbusier), the French Communist Party’s HQ in Paris, and most major buildings in Brasília.

Although the Modernist dream was realized in Brasília, there are many examples of Modernism in Rio de Janeiro, other than the all-important Capanema Palace, such as the Airport Santos Dumont (1937) by Milton and Marcelo Roberto, the Museu de Arte Moderna by Affonso Eduardo Reidy, the pyramidal Catedral Metropolitana (1976) by Edgar Fonseca, and the extraordinary Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói (1996) designed by Niemeyer himself.

Currently, the new, and as yet not open to the public, Cidade da Música in Barra da Tijuca (2008), designed by Moroccan-born architect Christian de Portzamparc—a building on stilts looming over a garden landscaped by award-winning Brazilian architect Fernando Chacel—appears to be inheriting the crown of the most original modernist structure this side of Brasília.

Landscape Architecture

Landscaping does not come up often in the examination of a country’s creative output unless that country is Brazil, the birthplace of Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994) who is considered the greatest 20C tropical landscape designer.

Born in São Paulo, he moved with his parents to Rio de Janeiro when he was four. He then studied painting in Berlin, Germany, where he discovered the beauty of his homeland’s flora in that city’s Botanical Gardens. He returned to Brazil in 1930 and graduated from the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes. At only 29, he created the memorable Capanema Palace gardens in 1938 and went on to draw up plans for the open spaces and common grounds of several public buildings using exuberant exotic foliage.

His work in Rio de Janeiro includes the Instituto Moreira Salles (1950)—where he also designed its striking blue tiles—the Museu da Chácara do Céu in Santa Teresa (1972), and the landscaping of the Museu de Arte Moderna. Still, the Burle Marx compositions a casual visitor is most likely to encounter are the stylized black-and-white wave mosaics on the sidewalks of Copacabana Beach, based on a traditional Portuguese design, and his biggest commission, the open, welcoming Parque do Flamengo (1961).

Burle Marx’s first love had always been horticulture. In 1949 he bought a 90acre/36.5ha old plantation in the suburb of Guaratiba where he cultivated rare tropical plants. In 1985 he donated his estate to the federal government, which has now transformed it into Sítio Burle Marx, one of Rio’s most beautiful sites.


Until the mid-18C sculpture in Brazil meant one of two things: the decorative engraving for the altars, side chapels, and the sacristies of the churches or “talha,” the carving of the often wooden and occasionally terra-cotta figures of saints and angels.

Most of the early statues from that period have been created by anonymous artists, but in the Monastery of São Bento one can find samples of the outstanding carver of the period, Portuguese monk Domingos da Conceição (1643–1718), whose powerful and realistic pieces foreshadowed what was to come. Although he designed and sculpted part of the nave and the first chapel, his masterpieces are the immense statues of São Bento, Santa Escolástica, and Our Lady of Montserrat to whom the church is dedicated.

In the next decade Manuel and Francisco Xavier de Brito introduced the Baroque carving of Lisbon to Brazil. Their 1726 work for the Rio church of São Francisco da Penitência in the carved jacaranda altar, around the doors, or in the choir defined what would be termed the “Brito style”—elaborate oval or circular medallions framing angels and puttos—which would eventually dominate Brazilian religious interiors.

The most significant artist of the end of the 18C was Mestre Valentim da Fonseca e Silva (c. 1740-1813).

Another important Carioca sculptor is Rodolfo Bernardelli (1852–1931), one of the best representatives of Eclectic decorative sculpture in Rio de Janeiro. Having studied in Italy, he developed a taste for Classicism, expressed in lines of geometric severity. His sculptures, generally in bronze, were adopted in the public buildings of the time and can be best seen in the Teatro Municipal and in Rio’s Biblioteca Nacional.

Modernism in Rio de Janeiro also had its greats, through Celso Antônio Silveira de Menezes (1896–1984) and Bruno Giorgi (1905–1993) who both participated in that seminal work, the Capanema Palace. Celso’s Reclining Girl in unpolished granite adorns its gardens and his Maternity stands in front of number 242 Botafogo Beach. Bruno Giorgi is better known for his monumental work in Brasília, but he was also commissioned to execute the Monument to Brazilian Youth in 1947, again in the gardens of the Capanema Palace.


Like the contemporary woodcarvers, the first Renaissance painters who arrived in Brazil in the 16C and 17C were mostly monks who worked anonymously in the larger towns of the richer northeast, decorating churches from copies of European templates. One of the first famous Brazilian names was Ricardo do Pilar (1630–1702) who worked in the Monastery of São Bento. He was influenced by Dutch Baroque painting that arrived in Brazil during the occupation of Pernambuco, via painters such as Albert Eckhout (1610–1665) and Frans Post (1612–1680); Post concentrated on drawing Brazilian landscapes while Eckhout produced still lifes and native portraits.

In the Baroque and Rococo periods of the 18C much of the painting involved church frescoes and illusionist trompe l’oeil ceilings by artists like Caetano da Costa Coelho, whose definitive identity was only established in the 1940s; José Joaquim da Rocha (1737–1807) who worked mostly in the northeast; and the best regarded, Manuel da Costa Ataíde (1762–1830), who was based in Minas Geráis.

The arrival of the French Mission brought to Rio de Janeiro highly influential painters such as Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755–1830) and Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768–1848), both versed in the Neo-classical European ideal. In their series of paintings of 19C Brazilian life they developed a distinct Brazilian romanticism, idealizing the figure of the native Indian. In the academy they founded local painters studied, such as Debret’s pupil Manuel de Araújo Porto-Alegre (1806–1879), the first Brazilian caricaturist, and João Zeferino da Costa (1840–1916) whose most important works are the murals of Nossa Senhora de Candelâria. Independence and the Age of Empire fashioned a Romantic –Nationalist monumental school of painting that achieved its apogee with Victor Meirelles (1832–1903) through his paintings of the Paraguayan War, Battle of Guararapes (1879) and the Naval Battle of Riachuelo (1883).

In the same artistic vein, other significant painters include Rodolfo Amoedo (1857–1941) whose works can be admired at the Municipal Theater, the National Library or the Pedro Ernesto Palace; Pedro Américo (1843–1905), whose pieces are exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts; Eliseu D’Angelo Visconti (1866–1944), who did the interior decoration of the Municipal Theater; and Antonio da Silva Parreiras (1860–1937), considered one of the best Brazilian landscape painters—he has a museum entirely dedicated to his works in Niterói.

The São Paulo Week of Modern Art, in 1922, revealed the emergence of a new breed of artists such as Anita Malfatti (1889–1964), Tarsilla do Amaral (1886–1973), Lasar Segall (1891–1957) and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (1897–1976). From the 1920s onward, manifestos and reactive trends appear every decade in the Rio de Janeiro–São Paulo axis.

The list is long and impressive: groups of interest include the Bernardelli nucleus of 1931 where artists such as Milton da Costa (1915–1988), Yoshiya Takaoka (1909–1978), and José Pancetti (1904–1958) found their voice with landscapes of the then still-idyllic Rio suburbs; Neo-concretism (or Op-art) based around the Frente group in the late 1950s, influenced by black-and-white cinema with painters such as Ivan Serpa (1923–1973), Franz Weissman (1911–2005), Lygia Clark (1920–1988), Amilcar de Castro (1920–2002), Lygia Pape (1927–2004) Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980); abstract art in the 1960s, conceptual art in the 1970s, performance art in the 1980s and, finally, Post-modernism and Deconstruction in the 1990s.

Cinema and Television

Brazilian cinema was born in Rio de Janeiro, where as early as July 8, 1896 the first projection in Brazil took place. A year later the first movie theater was established in the Rua do Ouvidor. The city was the star of the first film shot in the country in 1898 by Alfonso Segreto who filmed the landscape of the Bay of Guanabara, and it is still an important inspiration for Brazil’s film-makers.

From the 1940s until the mid-1960s, the Hollywood studio system prevailed in Brazil and their productions marked out Rio de Janeiro as the cinema hub of the country. In particular, the output of the Atlântida studios—films called chanchadas—enjoyed great popular success, being a mixture of comedies, romances, and musicals. Still, the best-known Brazilian film from that early period is Black Orpheus by French director Marcel Camus which was shot in Rio de Janeiro and won Best Film in Cannes in 1959. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinícius de Moraes, which itself is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice set during the Rio Carnival.

In 1954, landmark film Rio 40 graus (Rio 100 Degrees F.), directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, spurred the Cinema Novo movement (“a camera in the hand and an idea in the head”), a wave of Brazilian neorealist cinema influenced by Italian moviemakers, addressing national issues such as class, race and poverty in the name of political conscience. One of the most important among these low-cost productions is internationally-acclaimed Glauber Rocha’s Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black,God, White Devil, 1964).

Brazilian cinema suffered from the dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s and only resurfaced internationally with the docu-drama Pixote (1981) by the Argentinean Hector Babenco who used real street kids to illustrate the life in the urban jungles of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Although it took some time for Brazilian directors to find their proper voice after the return of democracy, Brazilian cinema currently enjoys a renaissance, kicked off by the Oscar-nominated Central do Brasil (1998), a film that catapulted director Walter Salles into the A-list of Hollywood players.

Yet, the Brazilian film that most visitors in Rio de Janeiro will have seen—and may be apprehensive because of—is City of God (2002) by Fernando Meirelles. Its raw, shocking, and casual brutality has spawned a whole genre of violent films such as the TV series City of Men (2002–2005) also by Meirelles and the films Man of the Year (2002) by José Henrique Fonseca, Carandiru (2003) by Hector Babenco, as well as Bus 174 (2002) and Tropa de Elite (2007) by José Padilha.The biggest media sensation, however, has been the international success of the Brazilian telenovelas produced mainly by the Globo Television network. These are soap operas with a storyline that is serialized only for a limited period but whose transmission floods television screens six days a week. The first telenovela, 2-5499 Engaged by Dulce Santucci, was launched as far back as 1963 and, like all early attempts, it was overtly melodramatic and similar to the radio soaps of the 1950s. In November 1968, the modern phase of telenovelas was launched with Beto Rockfeller. This soap opera had a spirited, colloquial dialog, a central romance, a climactic ending, and a highly localized ambience, elements that have defined the genre ever since. Brazilian telenovelas have to date been exported to more than 125 countries, have served to draw tourists to particular regions they have featured and, more importantly, have brought new audiences to classic Brazilian authors whose works they adapted.


For centuries, the types of music of the main racial groups in Brazil remained separate and unconnected. Indian aboriginal music was largely repetitive, long, and monotonous; it was chanted during ritual festivals and ceremonial dances. It was straightforward for the proselytizing Jesuits to refocus their Indian converts to Christian hymn-singing; in fact the Tupi and Guarani were very susceptible and had a good ear for choral music.

On the other hand, the music of the black slaves, highly rhythmic and percussive, was sung in the plantations and in the clandestine Afro-Brazilian religious services, whereas the folk music of the European colonists was characterized by nostalgia, expressing the homesickness of the Portuguese faced with the challenges of the new lands.

Classical music was one of the passions of the Braganças and, with the coming of the Portuguese royal family to Brazil, its development was sponsored heavily. The Carioca cleric Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia (1767–1830), influenced by Mozart, Bach, Handel, and Haydn—although he never left the city—became music master of the Royal Chapel and produced several distinguished works such as a Te Deum, a requiem and oratorios like The Beheading of John the Baptist, Santa Cecília and Nossa Senhora do Carmo. One of his alumni was another Carioca, Francisco Manoel da Silva (1795–1865) who composed the Brazilian national anthem in 1831.

After the 1840s Brazilian classical music remained attached to Italian opera and produced at least one talented composer, Carlos Gomes (1836–1896), who was sent by Dom Pedro II to study in Italy where he was influenced decisively by Verdi and Ponchielli. His best-known opera The Guarani, with a libretto based on the book by Jose de Alencar, was staged in 1870 in Milan’s La Scala.

The bridge between classical and popular music in Brazil occurred with choro, a largely instrumental music that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1860s and 1870s. It has been dubbed “Brazilian jazz,” although it preceded the genre by several decades.

The main composer of choro and other popular music works was Chiguinha Gonzaga (1847–1935), a classically trained piano teacher, who was much admired at the time in music and theater circles. She made history in 1899, when she was asked to write the first Carnival marching song specially commissioned for the event, the composition Ô abre alas (“Let me get through”).

The next milestone of the evolution of Brazilian popular music was 1917, with the appearance of the first recorded samba song, Pelo Telephone (“On the Phone”), credited to Donga and Mauro de Almeida. Originally the word “samba” meant a group of friends having a party, but by 1920 it had become specific to the music performed during Carnival. The city of Rio de Janeiro soon became the capital of samba and the main springboard of its composers and interpreters: José Barbosa Da Silva or Sinhô (1888–1930); Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos or Donga (1889–1974); Américo Jacomino or Canhoto (1889–1928); Angenor de Oliveira or Cartola (1908–1980); as well as choro musicians such as Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho or Pixinguinha (1898–1973) and Jacob do Bandolim (1918–1969).

Although born in Portugal, the person who promoted Rio de Janeiro and samba around the world was Carmen Miranda (1909–1955) with her kooky Carnival costumes and flamboyant hats. Dubbed “The Brazilian Bombshell,” she appeared in 14 Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953 that shaped the sometimes one-dimensional party image of Rio de Janeiro which prevails today.

In the late 1950s, another Carioca musical format enjoyed international success: it was bossa nova, a moody, intimate song style with complex jazz-influenced harmonies and lyrics celebrating life in Rio de Janeiro. It was launched with the album Canção do Amor Demais by the singer Elizete Cardoso in 1958. This album saw the collaboration of the two masters of the genre: Vinícius de Moraes (1913–1980) and Antônio Carlos Jobim (1927–1994). They later co-wrote Girl of Ipanema (Music: Jobim, lyrics: de Moraes) which became a best-selling song and won a Grammy award in 1965.

In the second half of the 1960s other movements from São Paulo and Bahia took over. Brazilian music embraced rock and pop with the tropicalismo movement and artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, and Rita Lee among others. Eventually it mutated into the unobtrusive and homogeneous MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), the equivalent of AOR in the US, which has dominated the airwaves since the 1980s. The keyword was fusion: even traditional samba mixed with rock and funk influences, typified by the music of Jorge Ben Jor, or diversified and merged with “Nordestino” styles such as pagode typified by Zeca Pagodinho and Jorge Aragão.

Yet, since the mid-1990s, the traditionalists have gained ground. While a branch of samba represented by musicians such as Martinho da Vila and Paulinho da Viola remained true to its roots and still identified with the Carioca spirit, a new generation has been re-discovering the delights of choro—largely forgotten since the advent of bossa nova—with young groups such as Regional Carioca, Trio Madeira Brasil, and Tira a Poeira. In 2000 the birth of Pixinguinha (23 April) was declared the National Day of Choro, when this 130-year-old most Brazilian of rhythms is celebrated countrywide.

Arguably, the greatest contemporary Carioca music artist is the internationally acclaimed Chico Buarque. A multi-talented individual (musician, composer, poet, and author), he composed bossa nova pieces in the 1960s when he started writing protest songs and theater pieces during Brazil’s dictatorship. His work was heavily censored and he had to seek refuge in exile, becoming one of the most vociferous critics of the military regime; but he returned to Brazil after the amnesty.


Early Brazilian theater was used for the catechism of the natives; the Jesuit José de Anchieta wrote the first Brazilian plays to that effect. Although European plays were staged in Bahia and Minas Geráis in the 17C, Rio de Janeiro has been the stage for most of the history of the Brazilian theater after the arrival of the Portuguese royal family, especially after the inauguration of the Teatro Real de São João in 1813, later Teatro João Caetano. Today the city has about 30 theaters located mostly in the Centro and the Zona Sul, while the grand Teatro Municipal in the center is dedicated exclusively to opera, ballet, and classical music.

The early 19C saw the emergence of the comic genius of the writer Luís Carlos Martins Pena (1815–1848) whose farces were dubbed comédia de costumes while the end of the 19C and the beginning of the 20C were periods marked by the strong influence of French revues. Tiradentes Square became the epicenter of this theatrical form with celebrated authors such as Arthur Azevedo (1855–1908) and his main partner Moreira Sampaio (1851–1905).

In 1938 Paschoal Carlos Magno founded the Teatro do Estudante, a Rio rep company formed by university students. In 1943 it witnessed the birth of modern Brazilian theater with the production of The Bridal Dress by Nélson Rodrigues (1912–1980), under the direction of the highly influential Zbigniew Marian Ziembiński (1908–1978). There followed two golden decades—until the advent of dictatorship. In the strict censorship that ensued, theater suffered as much as cinema. Today films and soap operas seem to monopolize the work of thespians, theater having become a niche art form which mostly appeals to a middle-class audience. However, the old administrative capital is still the cultural capital of the country and remains the springboard to fame, the central platform to launch a national career.


The first description of Guanabara Bay was sent in a letter by Tomé de Souza at the end of 1552 describing the natural beauties of the land to the King of Portugal. More significant depositions were made by the Frenchman Jean de Léry who was there between 1557 and 1558 in his book Journey to the Land of Brazil, and by Pero de Magalhães Gandano with his History of the Province of Santa Cruz in 1576.

Once again it was the arrival of the Portuguese court in Rio de Janeiro in 1808 that stimulated literature in the city. The arrival of the press in the same year resulted in the establishment of magazines such as the Rio de Janeiro Gazette in 1808, the Rio de Janeiro Courier in 1822, and the Journal of Commerce in 1827. Thanks to them the fast transmission of new European literary trends suddenly became possible, directly influencing the intellectual life in the capital. One of the first to arrive with the court was British trader John Luccock, who wrote the first English book on Rio, Notes on Rio De Janeiro and Southern Parts of Brazil, based on his residence there from 1808 to 1818. It was published in 1820 and described the material conditions, the people, the mores, and the intellectual life of the city at the time.

It was in the middle of the 19C when the country’s national literature started taking shape and the first wave it adopted was Romanticism which was in vogue in Europe at the time. There were many authors of this period who based their romances in Rio de Janeiro. One of the most illustrious was Jose de Alencar (1829–1877) who was born in Ceará but whose Guarani (1847) takes place in the Serra dos Órgãos near Teresópolis. His Senhora, published in 1875, is an urban romance full of spirited detail and comment about the social life of the capital.

The Carioca journalist and doctor Joaquim Manoel de Macedo (1820–1882), born in Itaboraí near Rio de Janeiro, wrote more than 40 romances, among which A Moreninha is considered his masterpiece. Many of his works had been published initially in periodicals and magazines, a common practice among the authors at the time. Macedo was also a great flâneur of Rio de Janeiro, as depicted in his Stroll Through The City Of Rio de Janeiro (1862–63) and Memories of the Rua do Ouvidor (1878).

Manuel Antonio de Almeida (1831–1861) published only one book Memoirs of a Police Sergeant (1853) in which he vividly portrayed the everyday life and the popular customs of Rio de Janeiro. With his simple and direct style, and his objective, non-judgmental vision of society, de Almeida is considered the father of Brazilian literary realism, a movement which followed his pioneering work.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839–1908) is the most illustrious representative of Brazilian literature and one of the most-translated early Brazilian authors. Rio de Janeiro appears in almost all his books such as Quincas Borba (1891), Dom Casmurro (1900), and Esaú and Jacó (1904). His sardonic black humor, peculiar and attenuated, reads as very modern today and it was certainly rare in his hemmed-in, deferential era.

His intellectual heir is Alfonso Enriques de Lima Barreto (1881–1922) who portrayed the Carioca environments, customs, and traditions with fine irony and social satire in such books as Memories of the Notary Isaías Caminha (1909) and Life and Death of M.J. Gonzaga de Sá (1919). Lima Barreto and Machado de Assis influenced much of the output that subsequently sprang from Rio de Janeiro which usually took the form of a prose chronicle viewed irreverently, with humor and caustic irony.

These themes were followed by Carioca authors such as Paulo Mendes Campos (1922–1991), Fernando Sabino (1923–1994) and the cartoonist, humorist, and playwright Millôr Fernandes (b. 1924).

In the 1940s, Brazilian literature saw the human subject and the conditions of its existence become the focus of many literary works. Authors such as Clarice Lispector (1920–1977), Pedro Nava (1903–1984) and his urban novels, or João Guimarães Rosa (1908–1967), whose vivid descriptions of the Minais Gerais outback provide great inspiration, dealt particularly well with existentialist issues.

Finally, among the great poets to be linked to Rio, Manuel Bandeira (1886–1968) added a transcendental dimension to the themes drawn from the ordinary on which he based his work. Carlos Drumond de Andrade (1902–1987) was most influential in the development of Brazilian modernist poetry. His everyday poems describe the plight of modern man in a world in crisis which still leaves space for hope, love, and tenderness.

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