Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1823-1889

By Hendrik Kraay | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Equestrian Statue of Pedro I, 1862

In March 1862, the long-awaited equestrian statue of Pedro I was finally inaugurated in Rio de Janeiro. The monument embodied the interpretation of independence that saw the first emperor’s actions as central to the founding of Brazil’s political institutions—empire, constitution, and dynasty. While the inauguration ritual was a success, at least in the sense of being effectively carried out, the statue became the lightning rod for criticisms of the imperial regime and indirect challenges to Pedro II himself. After a long campaign that, in different guises, dated back to 1825, the inauguration was Rio de Janeiro’s largest civic ritual since Pedro II’s coronation; unlike the coronation, it sparked bitter polemics as a new generation of radical Liberals joined old stalwarts to challenge the political assumptions that underlay it and the imperial regime more generally. The moderate Conservative government’s failure to control the rhetoric surrounding the inauguration boded ill for the monument and, in some ways, presaged the imperial regime’s decline.

The equestrian statue’s inauguration and the debate that it spawned are extremely well documented in the press and in the many pamphlets issued at the time. Pioneering photographers recorded it and left the first photographs of the imperial capital’s civic ritual. Newspapers filled page after page with densely written commentary and analysis. Thus, in addition to surveying the debates about the statue’s inauguration—which reprised many of the themes that we have already seen in the discussion about days of national festivity—this chapter offers a more detailed look at midcentury civic ritual and at the politics that surrounded it. While broad sectors of society participated in this celebration of monarchy and the campaign for the equestrian statue was presented as the nation’s effort to honor its founder, few failed to notice that it presented

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