The tupinambá mantle

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By WALNICE NOGUEIRA GALVÃO*

The return of the mantle by Denmark reminds us of the high aesthetic standard of feather art by Brazilian indigenous peoples.

Who said a good example doesn't bear fruit? Decolonization progresses: after the return of the dinosaur Ubirajara Denmark returned a Tupinambá ceremonial mantle with red guará feathers, the same one that dazzled the 500 Years Exhibition, in Ibirapuera. The Tupinambá community of Olivença, in Bahia, where the memory of the play endures, rejoiced. But don't waste your time feeling sorry for the Danes: they still own four of those cloaks.

In their National Museum there are other items that concern us and with which they themselves have no relation. But it turns out that neither its authors nor its commanders are Brazilians, which makes it difficult to claim legitimacy – either by ownership or possession. The dimensions of the treasure are astounding. And they ended up in Denmark practically by chance. The items originate from the Dutch occupation in Pernambuco, in the XNUMXth century. XVII.

As we learned at school, its governor, Prince Maurício de Nassau, intended to create a civilized center in the colony, and to that end he attracted scholars and artists. Among these, Frans Post and Albert Eckhout, the two greatest painters in Brazil at the time, both from the Netherlands and belonging to the Golden Century of Dutch and Flemish painting.

From Frans Post we appreciate its many landscapes and panoramas, not only rural but urban, especially when they bear signs of human work, such as the Pernambuco sugar mills. Albert Eckhout, on the other hand, commissioned the prince to paint a series of canvases to decorate his residence in Recife, but they were gigantic, measuring almost three meters in width, and did not fit together. The prince took them to Holland, but ended up giving them to King Frederick III of Denmark, his cousin.

Albert Eckhout lends services to anthropology and ethnology, portraying native peoples, as well as enslaved blacks and other human figures. He did not shy away from showing signs of cannibalism, as is the case of an indigenous woman carrying a leg in a basket on her head and a hand in a basket at her waist… The most impressive, due to its dynamism and choreography, is the monumental “Dança de indínos”. Only by Albert Eckhout, Denmark has 24 canvases and drawings. D. Pedro II, sensitive to their aesthetic and documentary relevance, had the good idea of ​​having them copied in a smaller size, to deposit them at the Historical and Geographical Institute of Rio de Janeiro.

As for our emperor, the Tupinambá mantle echoes in the wickerwork of his “Majestic Costume”, trimmed with yellow toucan crop feathers, symbolizing the country's indigenous origins and replacing a similar piece of ermine in European imperial garments. The murça forms a kind of short cape, reaching the middle of the back, worn over everything, like the tupinambá, which is more like a mantle than a mantle properly speaking, and goes down to the waist. The “Majestic Costume”, or the complete vestments of D. Pedro II, including the murça, can be seen at the Imperial Museum in Petrópolis.

The abundant existing iconography gives us access to the sumptuous omnipresence of feather adornments in the clothing of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, as well as in the conception of one of their supreme gods, Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent. And it culminates in the crowning of Montezuma, the last Aztec emperor, who, to our dismay, could also make the decolonization list. The gold crown and blue-green feathers of the quetzal bird, measuring one meter in diameter, of unparalleled beauty and grandeur, displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Mexico, is nothing more than a copy.

The original crown belongs to Austria and is in Vienna, as it was deposited by the Spanish conquerors at the feet of Emperor Charles V, in homage. And it is not even necessary to remember the high aesthetic standard of the feather art of the Brazilian indigenous people, which is not restricted to museums but can be appreciated in the constant practice that the villages still devote to it today.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).


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