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French Artistic Mission

French Artistic Mission

French Artistic Mission, the forerunner of the Brazilian Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. In 1808, fleeing the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, Portuguese Emperor Dom João Vi (1767–1826) transferred the court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. Upon the arrival of the Portuguese court in Brazil, the emperor contracted a group of French artists to organize an art academy in Rio de Janeiro along the lines of the French Academy. French painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, and engineers of the Missão Artística Francesa arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1816. The original group included the painter Jacques Lebreton (1760–1819), the landscape painter Nicolas Antoine Taunay (1755–1830), the sculptor Auguste Marie Taunay (1768–1824), the history painter Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768–1848), the architect Auguste Henri Victor Grandjean De Montigny (1776–1850), the engraver Charles Simon Pradier (1786–1848), and the composer Sigismund Neukomm (1778–1858). Their goal was the establishment of what João VI called the Royal School of Sciences, Arts, and Crafts. The Royal School would elevate Brazil, then the seat of the Portuguese Empire, and imbue it with European, specifically French, culture.

Having received training in the French Academy, the artists implanted French-inspired artistic and pedagogic models. They replaced the isolated attempts by the Jesuit fathers in the colonial period to encourage artistic teaching. They replaced the colony's religious baroque styles with French secular neoclassicism, an aesthetic orientation that endured through much of the First and Second Empires. This cultural transformation corresponded to the political and social changes that accompanied the royal family's arrival in Brazil: the opening of ports to world trade, the lifting of limitations of manufacturing in the colony, the establishment of military academies, the creation of a national library, and the introduction of the printing press.

Financial and political disruptions, coinciding with the personal crises of some of the artists, delayed the formal inauguration of the Royal School until 1820. The school underwent a number of name changes until 1824, when it was changed to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, the name it held until the fall of the Second Empire in 1889.

The original artists of the mission served as mentors for the first generation of academically trained Brazilian artists. Jean-Baptiste Debret chronicled the events of the colony with his royal family portraits and coronation paintings. His students, Simplicio Rodrigues de Sá, Manoel de Araujo Pôrto Alegre, and José Correia de Lima, continued his aesthetic influences. The legacy cast a shadow long after De-bret returned to France in 1820. Dom Pedro I named Simplicio de Sá court painter, and Pôrto Alegre became the Academy's fifth director in 1854.

See alsoArt: The Nineteenth Century .


Affonso De Escragnolle Taunay, A missão artística de 1816 (1956).

Caren Ann Meghreblian, "Art, Politics, and Historical Perception in Imperial Brazil, 1854–1884" (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1990).

Additional Bibliography

Lima, Valéria. Uma viagem com Debret. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 2004.

Schultz, Kirsten. Tropical Versailles: Empire, Monarchy, and the Portuguese Royal Court in Rio De Janeiro, 1808–1821. New York: Routledge, 2001.

                                    Caren A. Meghreblian

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