Caxias close to the sky and far from the people
Texto: Bruna Bacetti Sousa. Modelagem 3D: Gabriel Paraizo Santos, Roberta Kimberly Calandrine Azevedo dos Santos, João Generoso Gonzales. Pós-Produção: Luís Felipe Abbud, João Generoso Gonzales.
Peacemaker. Unifier. The ideal ‘citizen-soldier.’ This set of virtues made up the narrative created around the figure of Duque de Caxias, which was to be represented in a monument of immense proportions and placed in a public square in downtown São Paulo. The construction of the Monument to Duque de Caxias was used as a strategy by President Getúlio Vargas and the Ministry of War during the Estado Novo to strengthen ties with the important – and often subversive – capital of São Paulo, aiming to bring to the city ideals that were dear to the central government. The first point that is worth mentioning about the monument is the symbolic and political representation that its idealization carried, aiming to replace in the imagination of the population of the capital the symbology of the bandeirante, to attract the sympathy of both the elites and popular classes of São Paulo, to legitimize the Estado Novo regime in the city and guarantee the process of unification of the national territory.
In 1940, the president signed the decree that instituted the creation of the Central Commission for the Monument to Duque de Caxias, carrying out a campaign started the previous year in favor of the creation of a monument in honor of Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, the Duke of Caxias, patron of the Brazilian army. The big winner of the competition was the renowned sculptor at the time, Victor Brecheret with his project ‘Itororó A,’ a work that would reach approximately 48 meters in height, equivalent to a 15-story building. Its granite pedestal sculpted in high and low relief reaches over 25 meters and the statue of the Duke mounted on his horse, with his sword at the ready, is over 16 meters high – making it the largest equestrian sculpture in the world to this day.
When reflecting on the vision that the artist imprinted in his tribute, Brecheret’s unconditional adherence to the official discourse forged around Duque de Caxias and his total absence of critical distance around the military figure and what it represented can be seen, especially with regards to its contradictions. By reaffirming the mythical idea created and spread by the military sectors about the Duke and representing him as a peaceful man, a leader who courageously guided the Brazilian troops during his role in the imperial army campaigns, the sculptor helps to erase the aggressive actions of the military in the repression of the various separatist liberal revolts that took place on national territory – such as Balaiada in Maranhão and Farroupilha in Rio Grande do Sul – and also in clashes beyond Brazilian borders, such as the Paraguayan War.
During this same period, Brecheret was responsible for the idealization of the Monumento às Bandeiras, popularly known as ’empurra-empurra,’ installed near Ibirapuera Park as part of the celebrations of the IV Centenary of the Foundation of the City of São Paulo to be held in 1954. Important emphasis must be given to the overlaps between these two artistic works developed, in part, simultaneously. While the Monumento às Bandeiras is one of the most popular and talked about in the city, the Monument to Duque de Caxias remains little known and appropriated by the population, despite its gigantic size. Another point of comparison lies in the integration of monuments with their surrounding landscape. If the Monumento às Bandeiras is a good example of urban integration between the work and its surroundings, the other is very impaired in this aspect, mainly because it towers over 20 meters above ground level, in addition to being covered by the treetops and the tall buildings that surround it. Finally, it is worth pointing out that one of the complications for the delivery of the Monument to Duque de Caxias is directly related to the construction of the ’empurra-empurra’ and the prioritization of funding for the latter for the IV Centenary festivities. Soon, we realized that, even getting some attention and adherence from the São Paulo population, the nationalist pride was still neglected in relation to the valorization of pride and of the local references linked to the bandeirantes.
In turn, the location of the Monument to Caxias was the biggest impasse in its development, resulting in almost 15 years of delay between its completion and inauguration. Brecheret’s initial intention was for the monument to be installed in a wide-open space where it could be observed from different angles and levels, suggesting Praça das Bandeiras in Vale do Anhangabaú. However, this place was blocked by the Pro-Monument Commission given the strong connection of the place with the golden period of the São Paulo coffee oligarchy and the political hegemony of the State of São Paulo during the Café com Leite Republic, a fact that opposed the instrumentalization of the Monument as a unifying symbol coveted by its proponents. The Commission, which included the engineer and former mayor Francisco Prestes Maia, defended in turn its implantation in Largo Paissandú, foreseeing the demolition of the church Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos and the reformulation of the area as part of the road remodeling project of the central region which had begun years earlier as part of the Plano de Avenidas initiative. After protests and a lot of resistance from the black community, they decided to install the Monument to Caxias in the tiny Praça Princesa Isabel, which underwent a redevelopment and expansion project in order to adapt to the dimensions and aesthetic attributes that the imposing monument demanded.
The artwork was finally inaugurated in 1960 without having developed any relationship with the square and its surroundings during its elaboration process. This symbolic distance remains to this day, 60 years later, with an almost-forgotten monument in the middle of one of the most socially vulnerable regions of the city of São Paulo, known as ‘cracolândia.’
In 1991, the monument was vandalized by an army soldier protesting for better pay. A bomb hit and damaged the sculpture group that depicts the Battle of Itororó. In 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic, the Monument to Caxias was used as a setting for a photomontage by the artist Isabela Vida Moreno, who proposed a critical reflection, on both the city’s monuments and the country’s pandemic reality.
- Ana Carolina Fróes Ribeiro; Fábio Lopes de Souza Santos. Tradição, nacionalismo e modernidade: o monumento Duque de Caxias. 2006.Universidade de São Paulo, São Carlos, 2006.
- Fabrício Santos. A Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos como Monumento do Povo Negro na Cidade de São Paulo. IV Simpósio Brasileiro Online de Gestão Urbana. 2020. Unesp.
- Site Folha de São Paulo. Acervo Folha. ‘Monumento a Duque de Caxias’.
- Site Obras de Arte em Logradouros Públicos, Dep. de Patrimônio Histórico de São Paulo, artigo ‘Monumento a Duque de Caxias’.
- Site São Paulo Antiga, artigo ‘Monumento a Duque de Caxias’.