04 - HALL OF ARKS - Gallery BankBoston



Photo: Rômulo Fialdini - Book: MHN - Bank Safra

Photo: BankBoston

Photo: BankBoston

Photo: BankBoston

Photo: BankBoston

Photo: BankBoston

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 of Arks.

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.


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.