Itaú Cultural inaugurates the Olavo Setubal Space in order to put the pieces of the Brasiliana Collection and Numismática Itaú on permanent display

Itaú Bank's collection of art works and coins and medals (Brasiliana Itaú and Itaú Numismática, respectively, to give the collections their Brazilian names) will inaugurate their permanent home on December 13: this will bring together one of the most complete collections of works of art about Brazil in a period from when the country was discovered down to the early twentieth century. These works will be on display at the Espaço Olavo Setubal – Coleção Brasiliana Itaú, taking up two floors of the headquarters of Itaú Cultural in São Paulo. The space is named for the bank's founder, who thought of the idea of an art collection and began it in 1969. The collection will tell the story of Brazil.


Some ten thousand objects—split between these two collections—have been whittled down by the curators to thirteen hundred works of art to go on display. They recount Brazil's five-century history from the arrival of the colonizers and settlers down to the present times. Among works being shown to the public are an oil on wood painting, Povoado numa planície arborizada, ("Settlement in a woody plain") produced by Frans Post between 1670 and 1680—the first piece purchased by Olavo Setubal for his collection—and a wide range of engravings by  Rugendas, Debret, Chamberlain, Auguste Sisson, Schlappriz, Buvelot and Moreau, Bertichem and Emil Bauch, depicting the first landscapes seen in the country.


The two storeys of the Olavo Setubal exhibition space have been refurbished to a plan by Daniela Thomas and Felipe Tassara that aims to set off the works. Pedro Corrêa do Lago will curate Brasiliana, while Vagner Porto will curate Numismática. “This initiative is about Itaú making one of Brazil's most historically and artistically valuable collections permanently available to the public at large,” says Eduardo Saron, Director of Itaú Cultural.


There are nine modules in which the Espaço Olavo Setubal will be presenting iconic pieces, individually-framed or album-bound images, books, documents and maps portraying and depicting Brazil and its culture. The major roving artists are represented through their engravings, paintings, watercolours or original sketches; so, too, are the first works published about Brazil overseas, and iconic albums printed in Europe or here. Masterpieces of Brazilian literature are also housed in the exhibition: first editions, many of which are dedicated to, or illustrated by, major names of Brazilian art. Mauscripts are no less important and represent fundamentally important pieces of Brazil's history and the literature produced either in the country, or about the country.


Visitors will find the modules unfurling before them, tracking through historical themes and periods, albeit not necessarily in chronological order. The way through the collection begins with O Brasil Desconhecido, ("Unknown Brazil") displaying the first drawings of native Indians—showing Europeans' first impressions of the native population, depicted as per Renaissance conventions, more familiar to the artists, distorting their actual physical features and clothing—all the way to sixteenth-century documentation.


The next modules are O Brasil Holandês ("Dutch Brazil") and O Brasil Secreto, ("Secret Brazil") up until the eighteenth century. O Brasil dos Naturalistas, ("Brazil of the Naturalists") takes us into the early nineteenth century, and then from the fifth module O Brasil da Capital, ("Metropolitan Brazil") onwards, we dive ever deeper into Brazil up until the late twentieth century with O Brasil da província, O Brasil do império, O Brasil da Escravidão and O Brasil dos Brasileiros. ("Brazil of the provinces; Imperial Brazil; Brazil of the Slaves" and "Brazil of the Brazilians"). A series of animations show works and pages of books that cannot be handled. The numismatic collection, formerly housed in the Herculano Pires Museum on the Institute's top floor, now weaves seamlessly in and out of each stage of Brazil's historical context.


Brasiliana: Rarities

In addition to his Povoado numa planície arborizada, Post is also represented by his illustrations to the account known today as Barleus (by Caspar Barlaeus), one of the most lavishly illustrated books in seventeenth-century Europe and the first to publish images of Brazil. It was not only the first and (for almost two centuries) the most accurate and thorough text about Brazil, Barleus is deemed the most important illustrated work of the time. Some engravings have been extracted from the book without damaging the binding, and have been framed and hung on the walls, and are accompanied by videos of Frans Post's paintings to enable a comparison between the images.


There are also French and Dutch explorers' accounts of Brazil that have enormous historical value. Such authors as Piso and Marcgraf, Jean de Léry, Claude d’Abbevile, Andre Thevet and Jean le Prest stand out.  They are also part of the Grande Atlas Blaeu, of 1667, a set of 598 maps produced by Joannes Blaeu, one of the great seventeenth-century cartographers.


Countless scientific expeditions explored Brazil after the ports were opened to foreign trade (in 1810). Europeans flocked to the country to discover the land, the fauna and flora, and the customs of the natives.

The most famous of the major expeditions—giving rise to publication to be found in this exhibition—were those of the naturalists Spix and Martius, and of Prince Maximilian of Austria, which were true catalogues of Brazilian nature.


It was not only in the scientific sphere that Europeans took an interest in Brazil. They were drawn also by spectacular landscapes, as is borne out by wonderful albums of engravings by Rugendas, Debret, Chamberlain, Auguste Sisson, Schlappriz, Buvelot e Moreau, Bertichem and Emil Bauch.


Espaço Olavo Setubal is also displaying several first editions of genuinely Brazilian poets and novelists such as Casemiro de Abreu, Castro Alves, Machado de Assis, and other nineteenth-century writers.


Numismática: Highlights

Coins, medallions, gold ingots, and medals span the entire history of Brazil from the first Portuguese arrival to the present day. Highlights include the Dutch "obsidian" coins, the first ever minted in Brazil (1645 to 1646), in Recife, during the Dutch invasion of the country's north-east.


Another highlight is from 1695: the Terra de Santa Cruz assay, coined by the recently-founded Casa da Moeda da Bahia (Bahia Mint). Three different models of silver coin, worth 640 réis, were presented for a choice as to which one would go into circulation in Brazil. However, the assay was rejected because it bore the country's original name ("The Land of the Holy Cross") and depicted the cross of Calvary. Only two examples are known to exist anywhere in the world.


Gold coins from the reign of Dona Maria I (1777-1805) show how the imagery of the coinage reflected changes in her life. Up until 1786 the queen is portrayed as the legitimate sovereign, alongside her husband Dom Pedro III, who shared the throne with her: the image is called Perfis Sobrepostos ("Overlaid Profiles"). After the death of her husband, Maria is depicted from 1786 to 1789 in mourning: the coins are dubbed Véu de Viúva ("Widow's Veil"). After three years of official mourning the sovereign appears in a bonnet bedecked with jewels and ribbons, until 1799.


Among the collection's more recent acquisitions there are rare medals bought at auction overseas: a silver medal dated 1640, portraying Maurice of Nassau; a medal from 1843 struck for the marriage of Dom Pedro II and Tereza Cristina, possibly the only example in gold; a medal dating from 1852 commemorating the Uruguay Campaign, proven to be the only example in gold: it used to belong to the Duke of Caxias.  There is also the first-ever medal struck in Brazil, in 1820, with an effigy of Dom João VI.


Other acquisitions are worthy of mention, such as Guia de Fundição de Ouro da Casa da Administração Geral dos Diamantes em Tijuco, Minas Gerais (a document entitled "Gold-Smelting Guidance for the General Diamond Administration House at Tijuco"), dated 1777. Equally important is the Ordem de Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Vila Viçosa, ("Order of Our Lady of Conception of Vila Viçosa"), a decoration created in 1816 by Dom João VI, and a gold bracelet decked out with miniature Empire decorations.








Brasiliana: 969

Paintings: 12

Three-dimensional pieces: 16

Drawings, watercolours, washes: 30

Engravings and etchings: 693

Maps/Cartography: 16

Literary manuscripts: 7

Documents: 76

Journals: 5

Books: 98

Caricatures: 16



Numismatics: 395

Coins: 281

Medal 96

Decorations: 10

6 gold ingots

2 objets d'art