A “great priest of civilization”: Reinterpreting Victor Meirelles’ A Primeira Missa through newspapers

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Abstract

Using newspapers as primary sources, this article presents an innovative analysis of Victor Meirelles’ A primeira missa no Brasil (1860). Beyond canonical interpretations of Meirelles’ work as an erudite depiction of the beginning of Brazil’s history in 1500, the article demonstrates that for viewers of that time the painting also, and above all,represented the beginning of the history of Brazilian art in the 1800s. It demonstrates this by following general art debates in newspapers of the period, specifically in the years before and after the highly anticipated return of the young Meirelles fromhis European sabbatical. Debates in the press illustrate how Meirelles’ significance for nineteenth-century audiences in particular, and for Brazilian art history as whole, can only be fully decoded by situating the artist within Brazilian elites’ political-intellectual efforts to achieve European-style civilisational progress during the first decades of the post-independence period..
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-215
Number of pages22
JournalBrasiliana: Journal for Brazilian Studies
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

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