Vellozo, José Mariano Da Conceição

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(b. San José, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1742; d. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 13 June 1811)


Velloze, the father of Brazilian botany, entered the Franciscan order in 1761 and, although largely self–educated in the sciences, became instructor in geometry at São Paulo ten years later. In 1782 he was commissioned by the viceroy, Luis de Vasconcelos, to prepare a study of the flora of Rio de Janeiro province. He roamed the countryside for eight years, turning his monastic cell into a herbarium where he analyzed his specimens. His companion in the field and fellow Franciscan, Francisco Solano, prepared drawings of many of the plants for the completed work, Flora fluminensis.

In 1790, his work on the Flora completed, Velozo accompanied his patron Vasconcelos to Lisbon, where he was named director of the Tipografia Calcográfica e Tipoplástica do Arco do Cego, a printshop later absorbed into the National Press of Portugal. There he directed the publication of numerous scientific works, many of which he had written or translated. Although he was summoned to organize the herbarium of the Royal Museum in 1797–1798, Vellozo spent most of the 1790’s producing works of scientific and economic popularization, the majority of which were characterized by the utilitarian motive so typical of the Enlightenment. Particularly noteworthy was his essay on alkaloids (1798), the first part of which was a treatise on popular chemistry and the second a description of Brazilian plants from which alkaloids could be derived. Between 1798 and 1806 Vellozo published a multivolume work on economic botany, O fazendeiro do Brazil, in which he discussed plants that could contribute to the economic development of Brazil: sugarcane, dyes, coffee and cocoa, spices, and textile fibers.

Vellozo also was interested in zoology. In 1800 he published a descriptive treatise on the birds of Brazil, Aviário brasílico; in the first chapter, a history of ornithology from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, Vellozo discussed the contributions of European naturalists from Konrad Gesner to George Edwards.

In the two decades following his fieldwork, Vellozo discovered that collecting the data for his Flora was a good deal easier than getting the work into print–a fate he shared with the members of the contemporaneous Spanish botanical expeditions. In 1808 the imminent publication of the Flora was aborted when Geoffroy Saint–Hilaire went to the National press and, under orders from General Andoche Junot, took the plates to Paris, where he and Candolle later used them. This bizarre incident delayed publication until 1825, when Emperor Pedro I ordered the printing of the text. Two years later the engravings of 1,640 plants were published at Paris. In the introduction to his masterpiece, Vellozo included a terse description of his achievement: “I observed, had drawn, and reduced to Linnean nomenclature according to the sexual system, fully seventeen hundred species of plants,” The Flora fluminensis is regarded as the greatest creation of Enlightenment science in Brazil.


I. Original Works. Flora fluminensis, seu descriptionum plantarum praefectura fluminensi appeared in two parts: text (Rio de Janeiro, 1825), 2nd ed. as Archuivos do Museu nacional (Rio de Janeiro), 5 (1881), and plates Florae fluminensis icones, Antonio da Arrabida, ed., 12 vols. (Paris, 1827). The ornithological treatise is Aviário brasilico ou galeria ornitológica das aves indigenas do Brasil (Lisbon, 1800). Among the more important works on economic botany are Alografia dos álcales fixos (Lisbon, 1798); Memória e extratos sôbre a pipereira negra (Lisbon, 1798); O fazendeiro do Brazil, 11 vols. in 5 (Lisbon, 1798–1806); Quinografia portuguêsa (Lisbon, 1799); and the didactic O naturalista instruido nos diversos métodos, antigos e modernos, de ajuntar, preparar e conservar as producões dos três reinos de natureza (Lisbon, 1800).

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical data are in Augusto Vitorino Sacramento Blake, Dicionario bibliográfico brasileiro. 7 vols. (Rio de Janeiro, 1883–1902), V, 64–70; José Saldanha da Gama, “Biographia do botánico brasileiro José Mariano da Conceiçóo Velloso,” in Revista do Instituto histórico e geográfico brasileiro, 37 (1868), 137–305; Carlos Stellfeld, Os dois Vellozo (Rio de Janeiro, 1952): adn “A biografia de Frei Vellozo,” in Tribuna farmacéutica (Curitiba), 21 (1953), 119–124. A valuable collection of documents on the Flora fluminensis is Flora fluminensis de Frei José Mariano da Conceiçã Vellozo. Documentos, Thomaz Borgmeier, ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1961). On Vellozo’s role in the Brazilian Enlightenment, see José Ferreira Carrato, Ingreja, iluminismo e escolas mineiras coloniais (São Paulo, 1968).

Thomas F. Glick