Public Art in Paraíba in the beginning of the 20th Century

Madalena F. P. Zaccara and Darlene Araújo

ZACCARA, Madalena F. P.; ARAÚJO, Darlene. Public Art in Paraíba in the beginning of the 20th Century. 19&20, Rio de Janeiro, v. IV, issue 1, jan. 2008. Acessible in: <> [Português]

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Some consideration on the Public Art

1.       The human groupment socially organized, that has in the city its most recent expression is the national scenario to the collective fruition of art. From the standing point of view that the public art is the collection of work of arts belonging to a determined community we will find its first manifestations in the environment that the Paleolithic man used: the cave. Is there, therefore, that are registered the firsts forms of representation of the activity that we can consider as art destined to the collectivity. In the cave-sanctuary, in the collective morada or in the strategic shelters of the hunters, signs specified through the social common habit in expressions which meaning remains still on the ground of arqueologic hypothesis (MUNFORD, Lewis, 2000)

2.       To many the contemporaneous notion of public art is connected still to the renascence reality. Conceived as monument to fill the spatial clarification that defined the urban transformations of the period, it connected itself to the power represented by the prince-mecenas and his wish to perfect an urban space that was the reflection of this power. These monuments represented him in his glory or the heroes that served this universe of wealthy merchants and were, normally, designed and executed by consecrates artists, which granted prestige to the renascence urban nucleus. The French Revolution, later, held the reins of the absolutist power and interfered in the artistic production of the country and in its international reflection. The bourgeoisie, of rigid and rigorous moral, taking the power, started to demand a sober art in oposition to the capriccios and aristocratic aspect of the baroque and rococo style. That was the Century of Light, sustained in rationality and scientific spirit. It was intended then, to impose a style based on the cult of contemporaneous heroes at the same time that grew the interest and admiration for the classical antiquity with the diggings done in Pompey, Herculano, Paestum and Athens. The public art passou to be considered, inside those circumstances, as an educative tool to the people.

3.       In Brazil, the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts spread initially in Rio de Janeiro and, posteriormente, in the rest of the country this neoclassical conception that lasts until today in celebrative monuments and busts that constitutes a great part of our public collection. Vanguard movements happened in Europe and it's reflection started to appear in the Brazilian scenario, in Paraiba, modernization meant to see its colonial aspect by a neoclassical and eclectic architecture. Squares and parks surrounded by sculptures honoring public men were the expression of the urban transformations that caracterizavam the period. The state of Paraiba which, in the 30's went through a period of confront between the rural aristocracy and the liberalism and that had in the local scenario it's biggest representative the destiny murdered president Joao Pessoa, used the neoclassical sources to modernize its capital with the construction of monuments in that style. Therefore, spatial settings were renewed through commemoratives monuments to the contemporaneous heroes that had in the figure of Joao Pessoa their biggest symbol.

The city in the 30's: president Joao Pessoa

4.       The 30's represented a lot to Brazil and to Paraiba. It was a period of meaningful happenings, of political fights and change of power. The state of Paraiba became restless with the dispute between the rural aristocracy that held the economical and political control then and the liberals that ambitioned and had as their biggest symbol the president Joao Pessoa, nephew of Epitacio Pessoa and representative of the ascension of a new class. During the dispute it happen the death of the governor of Paraiba in the city of Recife in August 26th of 1930 by gunshots done by his political adversary Joao Dantas, member of a traditional rural family of Paraiba. This was one of the reasons that contributed to the deflagration of the revolution of 1930 that resulted in the end of the Old Republic and the beginning of the Second Republic.

5.       In the state of Paraiba the reflection of the president murderer, representative and symbol of the new political forces emerging of eminent urban characteristics, provoked conflicts in the street, depredacoes and pursuits por vezes cruentas. The chance of power resulted also in the change of the name of the capital of the state that was called then Parahyba do Norte to Joao Pessoa, in honor to the dead governor. The state flag was also changed, now showing the word "Nego"(which means to deny).

6.       It was also during this decade that Paraiba has gone through transformations in its urban configuration. During the government of Joao Pessoa, several buildings were reformed, squares were planned and a new road system was created, aiming a new reading of the urbe inspired in the deeds of Haussman and his urban conception in the Paris of 19th century. After the death of the federal interventor president, Antenor Navarro gave continuity to the unfinished works of the previous administration and started new ones. In that period occurred the arrival of several professionals from other states, among them the urbanist Nestor Figueiredo that was charged of the remodeling and development plan of the city of Joao Pessoa and Cabedelo, as well as the one from the Praca Joao Pessoa, place were a monument in honor of the dead president would be inserted named: Altar da Patria [Figure 1].

Ambience of the monument Altar da Patria: the Praça João Pessoa

7.       The relevance of the Praca Joao Pessoa to the homonym city goes back to its colonization. Initially the area was a bear land in front of an architectonic complex built by the Jesuits (church, residence and school) named Largo do Colegio. In the 18th century, when the members of the order were expelled of the city, their installation begun to serve the Government Palace and the Liceu of Paraiba. The space went through a few interventions, the first being in the 19th century when the land was transformed in a public walking area (receiving a townscape treatment, besides the installation of benches, lighting, bandstand and an iron fence) in the late 19th century, becoming then the public space of most importance to the urbe and leisure point of the society at the time [Figure 2].

8.       Later on, in the beginning of the 20th century the edification corresponding to the facility of the Government Palace went through reforms receiving elements of several architectonic periods inside of a modern perspective of ecletismo then in fashion. Other buildings were built around the square: the Normal School, in neoclassical style and the building of the state press, The Union, with eclectic’s aspects inserting a monumental contextualization in the former bear land.

9.       Later the mentioned square, was baptized as Praca Felizardo Toscano. In its third and last reform, performed in the 30's by Nestor de Figueiredo, it acquired a new setting in a radial form and has its name changed, this time to honor the dead liberal heroes. Is with this name that it remains until nowadays.

10.    In the actual time the Praca Joao Pessoa gathers in its surrounding the Government Palace, the Cour of Law and the Legislative Assembly. It’s, sometimes, called Praca of the Three Powers, although it is not the official denomination. It still constitutes a point of meeting for students, scholars and public in general.  It is in this environment that the monument Altar da Patria is inserted, located in its center and installed in September 8th of 1933.

Considerations about the transformations of the sculpture in the period

11.    If in the late 19th century, in Europe, the pictorial perception altered itself deeply, the sculpture showed, in parallel, a much more conservative spirit, observing a naturalist tradition with monumental aspects, especially when focused on public spaces.

12.    In the first half of the 19th century, the idealistic concepts defined by JJ Winckelmann imposed themselves being translated mostly through the work of two artists: Antonio Canova (1757-1844) and Bestel Thorwaldsen (1770-1844), forming an international neoclassical sculptural trend that was followed by the romantism contained in the work of François Rude (1784-1855) and Antoine-Louis Bayre (1796-1875). This typology of the sculpture, touched by allegoric feelings or Romanesque content, satisfied the commanding conservative taste and was easily absorbed by the possibility of public square works.

13.    In the beginning of the 20th century the European sculpture searched for methods of expression that was in agreement with the modern mentalidade transformed by the technology. In Brazil, the first’s modernist’s sculptural manifestations happened in the work of artists such as Victor Brecheret (1894-1955) in the 20's. The neoclassical and romantic formulas, however, were still preponderates in the country and especially in the Northeast, a country made of economical contrasts. Therefore, a good time was needed in order to happen a certain proximity with the modern vocabulary. It's important to remember that the city of Sao Paulo, industrialized, opposed itself, then, radically against a still feudal Northeast were the artistically sleepiness obeyed the traditionalist orientations. On the other hand, the manifestations of a modernity in process of update with the international context, with the exception of a few marking events in the neighboring city of Recife, lived a marginal reality without any official or popular support. At most they were ignored by the majority of the population like it is the case of the "Silent Club", with a surrealist philosophy and praxis, that happened still in the 50's in Paraiba and never managed to get in at least in the broadcast news in the artistic local events. Its actions restrained itselves to the manifestations of its few members, olympically ignored by the population. It was inside this artistically conservative view, despite the political reformists proposals of the liberalism, that was conceived the sculpture known as O Altar da Patria, subject of out study.

Conception of the monument: the artist and the work

14.    It was through contest, elaborated by the public administration of Paraiba, that Humberto Cozzo, his artistic name, sculpture graduated by the Arts and Crafts Liceu of Sao Paulo and that featured himself in the conception of other monuments in the region and the southeast of the country, won the concurrence to the execution of the sculpture known as O Altar da Patria, destined to the Praca Joao Pessoa.

15.    The sculptor, who was disciple of Amadeu Zani, had already approached the same theme in other occasions performing to the city of Campina Grande, in Paraiba, a sculpture honoring Joao Pessoa and in Rio de Janeiro, in his mausoleum located at Saint John Baptis's cemetery, a funeral sculpture to the dead president. His project, expressed through a maquete, pleased the current president Antenor Navarro, but went through, subsequently by the approval of a technical commission composed by the academic stuff of the Polytechnic School of Rio de Janeiro, that approved it justifying that it was the conception that most approached the demanding of the contest's edictal.

16.    The execution of the piece obeyed the specifications specified in the contests. The granite, of light color, used as base for bronze sculptures, came from a block of dimensions necessary to avoid joints. The execution of the models in bronze was supervised by a commission named to follow the progress of the work since the process of casting to the placing of the bronze in the molds and, finally, its installation in the place to which it was destined.

17.    The monument is composed by allegoric statuaries groups, symmetrical and in monumental scale, executed in bronze and settled on a rectangular granite base, with dimensions of 10,00 x 14,00 meters, totalizing a height of ten meters. In front of the Government Palace, named then as Redemption Palace, is located the figure of Joao Pessoa with attitude described in the newspapers of that time as "serene and natural" wearing the clothes of his usual. In the east face it is placed an allegoric figure holding the flag of Paraiba and with the right arm distended, in sign of protest [Figure 3]. Both sculptures height is about 2,20 meters. Other groups, of bigger dimensions turns themselves to the north and south. With views to the south, three figures symbolize the "action" [Figure 4]. To represent it, a winged figure, a genny, guides three individuals of manly aspect that sustains an anvil and represent the labor and activity. In the north side, tow fighters also guided by an allegoric figure symbolize the civism [Figure 5].

18.    The intention of the complex is that the three groups around the granite column symbols the courage, civism and the haughtiness of the president in its perpetuation sculptural to the memory and history of Paraiba. The monument was inaugurated in September 8th of 1933 with a speech of José Américo de Almeida, administration secretary of Joao Pessoa and, later, minister of the Republic in the Vargas government.

The city and the monument

19.    The contemporaneous urban space, based on the model imposed by the bourgeoisie, that had in Haussman its idealizer supported by the vast powers granted by Napoleon the Third, implicates in the superficial relationship between its users generated by the indifference and the anonymity resulting of the new populational density and the morphological aspects of this kind of city. The social and cultural stratification each time more contundent in the urban nucleus and the violence generated by the contrast constitutes in agents of the progressive aggravation of the contemporaneous isolation in relation to the public space. The city and its mutations turned each time more difficult the contact between the user of the urban space with his surroundings and with the art produced to the enjoyment of the collectivity.

20.    In Brazil, the situation is aggravated by the abandon of the historical nucleus associated with a continuous process of migration to the areas considered more noble and most of the time with most recent occupation, nobility generated by real state speculation. Few are the neighborhoods or public areas that preserve their initial aspects and escape the voracity of the market and the favelização of the abandoned areas. Paraiba is not the exception. However the mentioned square and its sculptural group escape until nowadays the depredation, vandalism and even the forgetfulness. It is still a point of reference of an urban center each time more replaced by the equipments neighbors of the sea cost.

21.    The square remains a space of permanent utility to part of the population. Its privileged location makes it a stage of manifestations and public acts throughout its history. The monument and its allegoric aspects insert themselves, therefore, in a universe of enjoyment that does not opposes its conception: converse with it. The Altar da Patria propitiate, still, a historical and artistic information to the most well informed flaneur and symbolizes, in Paribas, the resistance to the destruction or forgetfulness of a monument that expresses the aesthetic vocabulary accepted by the city in the early 20th century [Figure 6].


A cidade recebeu, ontem, triunfalmente, o chefe do Govêrno Provisório. A União. Paraíba, n. 201 p. 1, September 8, 933.

AGUIAR, Wellington Hermes Vasconcelos de. Cidade de João Pessoa: a memória do tempo.  3° ed.  João Pessoa:  FUNESC,  2002.

Amadeu Zani.  Seen in 02/13/2008.

BENEVOLO, Leonardo. História da cidade. São Paulo: Ed. Perspectiva, 2001.

A Paraíba resgata parte de sua imensa divida para com a memória do seu grande filho: a inauguração, ontem, do monumento a João Pessoa. A União. Parahyba, n. 202 p. 8 September, 1933.

Humberto Cozzo.  Seen in 12/10/2007.

KRAUS, Rosalind. Caminhos da escultura moderna. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1998.

MELO José Octavio de Arruda. Historia da Paraíba: Lutas e resistência. João Pessoa: Editora da UFPB, 2000.

MUNFORD, Lewis. A cidade na História: suas origens, transformações e perspectivas. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1982.

O culto da Paraíba ao filho imortal: A inauguração do monumento a João Pessoa. Négo! Ação! Civismo! A União. Paraíba, n. 200, p. 3,  September 7, 1933.

O monumento do estado da Parahyba ao grande Presidente João Pessóa. Entre os projetos apresentados foi escolhido o do escultor Humberto Cozzo. A União. Parahyba,  n. 237, p. 1, October 15, 1931.