Itaú Cultural and the Brasiliana Collection

The Brasiliana Collection on the 4th and 5th floors of the Itaú Cultural, on Av. Paulista, 149, is an initiative of Olavo Setubal, who believed that it was important to tell the story of Brazil. In 1970, he began to collect what he sought to be relevant. Paintings and documents emerged from national and international collectors, from European families who barely knew the importance of the works they kept. Forty years later, in 2014, he decided to transform these works into a permanent exhibition which is now in São Paulo, open to the public, entrance free. Tue-Sun 9h to 20h. The collection has more than 12 thousand items and is considered the largest of a private company in Latin America. The exhibits comprise two specific collections - Brasiliana Itaú and Itaú Numismática,  and reveal five centuries of Brazilian history. There are nine modules, each with a theme, bringing together 1,364 items.

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Brazil Unknown - It was along the coast that the current Brazilian territory began to be discovered by European navigators and little was explored of the interior. “The Admiral’s Map”, dated 1522, outlines only part of the coast and calls it the land of Newfoundland or Land of the Parrots. No artist visited Brazil during this time. Existing images were created in Europe based on written accounts and descriptions. The dominant theme was the cannibalism, to be seen in the engravings that describe the country. Indigenous peoples are also depicted dressed in European fashion or as athletic models imagined by European artists who had never seen them.

Dutch Brazil - The eight years spent by Maurício de Nassau in the Northeast are a precious legacy of the works of young scientists and artists of the Dutch delegation, who published in great illustrated books all the images and information collected in the country.

The Secret Brazil - After defeating the Dutch invader, the government of Portugal closed the country to foreign visitors for more than 150 years. Concern about keeping Brazil secret increased after the discovery of huge deposits of gold and diamonds, around 1700, in Minas Gerais. It also is the time of the sculptor ‘Aleijadinho’.

Brazil of the Naturalistas - With the arrival of the royal family and the opening of the port in 1808, the country was finally revealed to the world, and in the following decades received hundreds of artists and scientists determined to register the territory, its customs, its flora and its fauna, moved by the enormous curiosity repressed in the 150 years in which the country was closed.

Brazil of the Provinces - Less portrayed than the capital, the different regions of Brazil were sometimes documented by traveling artists. There are many paintings of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil of the Empire - The royal family, was widely portrayed and played a fundamental role in the development of art in Brazil. Court painter Debret witnessed and recorded the marriage ceremony of D. Pedro I with his second wife, D. Amelia.

The Brazil of Slavery - A dark chapter in Brazilian history, slavery was portrayed by a series of traveling artists. Englishman, Henry Chamberlain, visited Rio de Janeiro in 1817 and, five years later, launched in London the first collection of engravings focused on slave labor. There are also works by Rugendas,  Debret, Spix& Martius showing scenes of slavery in different contexts - the rural and the urban, the everyday forced labor and the rare festive moments.

The Brazil of the Brazilians - 20th century. With the advent of the Republic, the national culture  questions  and absorbs foreign elements, as did the modernist Oswald de Andrade, or in the visual chronicles focused on the types of the city and in the political environment. There are documents signed by all the presidents till Tancredo Neves.

Margaret Mee is also part of the Encyclopedia Itaú Cultural.

After the war Mee studied art at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. In 1950 she attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, where she learnt her style of illustration, and received a national diploma in painting and design in 1950.

She moved to Brazil with her husband, Greville Mee in 1952 to teach art in the British school of São Paulo. Her first expedition to Belém was in 1956. She then became a botanical artist for São Paulo’s Instituto de Botanica in 1958, exploring the rainforest and more specifically, the Amazon, painting the plants she saw, some new to science, as well as collecting some for later illustration.

She created 400 folios of gouache illustrations, 40 sketchbooks, and 15 diaries. She travelled to Washington D. C. in 1964 and briefly to England in 1968 for the exhibition and publication of her book, Flowers of the Brazilian Forests. She returned to Brazil and joined protests to draw international attention to the deforestation of the Amazon region.

Mee died in a car crash in Seagrave, Leicestershire on 30 November 1988. She was 79. She also received recognition in Brazil including an honorary citizenship of Rio in 1975, the Brazilian order of Cruzeiro do Sul in 1979.

After her death the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded to further education and research in Amazonian plant life and conservation, by providing scholarships for Brazilian botanical students and plant illustrators who wish to study in the United Kingdom or conduct field research in Brazil.

Margaret Mee and the Moonflower (Margaret Mee e a Flor da Lua) is a 2012 Brazilian documentary film directed by  abouther work and legacy.

Christina Thornton