Photo: Rômulo Fialdini - Book: MHN - Bank Safra
In this space that leads from the Minerva Patio towards the Patio of the
Cannons, the visitor finds an important collection of sacred art, among
which 33 religious sculptures in ivory, a part of the Museum's collection
of 572 figures of Hindu-Portuguese origin, one of the world's most
important ones in its sort, and two important wood carved sculptures by
Mestre Valentim (1750-1813): "Saint John Evangelist" and "Saint Mathews".
These two images decorated the façade's upper niches of the Igreja de Santa
Cruz dos Militares, in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and from
where they were removed, in the early 20th century, already severely damaged.
In January 2001, as a result of the donation made by BankBoston, the
National Historical Museum incorporated to its collection of sacred art,
ten valuable "cusquenha" paintings of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, a
testimony of the Peruvian culture, that now can be appreciated at the Hall
These paintings, along with the Museum's existing collection, contribute,
significantly, for a better understanding of the sacred art in Latin
America. Dating from the same epoch of the pieces presented in the Gallery
BankBoston - Hall of Arks, the "cusquenha" paintings sum-up with the
Brazilian religious art, offering a vision that encounters, in their
artistic differences, a similarity with the religiosity of the colonizers.
THE "CUSQUENHA" ART
With the conquest of Cuzco by the Spanish in 1534, a profound
transformation in the political history of the Inca Empire takes place, as
well as a new chapter in the history of its art.
The "cusquenha" paintings appear as an ecclesiastical art, and its main
finality was didactic - mostly catechetical, since the Spanish, with the
increasing appropriation of the wealth of the new colony, initiate the
conversion of pagan souls to the catholic religion.
The image - together with the spoken word - was the only efficient way to
transmit catholicism. Relying on the evangelism of the Inca peoples, Spain
sends a group of religious artists for the creation of dogmatic works,
forming a schoool for indians or mestizos, teaching them the art of drawing
and painting with oil.
The designation "Cusquenho" however, does not limit itself to Cuzco,
origin of these colonial spanish-american paintings, that were also
produced in other cities of the Andes, as Bolivia and Equador, between the
16th to the 18th centuries. This denomination became generally known, for
the city of Cuzco, in Peru, was the capital and center of the Inca Empire.
Anyhow, the Cuzco School is considered as the first organized pictorial
center in the so-called New World.
The "cusquenho" topics - exclusively religious - are the same as the
Italian Fra Angelico - in the early 15th century, and the masters of Pisa
and Siena, in the Middle Ages: biblical scenes of catholic tradition - the
glorifying of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saints, the Final Judgement, with
the glories of Paradise and the damnation of Hell.
"The "cusquenhos" ignore perspective and prefer the red, yellow and earth
colors. They emphasize the physical beauty of human figures,enlarging the
saints in order to reduce the size of devotees into mere tiny spots in the
painting. They create the impression of statuary volume with sumptuous
robes and give the contour of monument to curtains and columns.
Even under the influence of the Byzantin and Flemish schools and the
Italian Renaissance, the Peruvian "cusquenhos" show a liberty unknown to
Europeans: bright colors, distorted images to bring dramatization to the
scene, with the background depicting the fauna and flora of the Andes,
adorned with angels and archangels.
The authorship of the majority of these works is unknownn, due to the
tradition of pre-Columbian peoples, in which art is essentially
communitarian and ritual.