20th Century Brazilian Woodcut: From Illustration to Modern Art

With prints from the collection of the Casa da Xilogravura museum

The Brazil-Austria Cultural Center presents the exhibition “Woodcut in Brazil”, covering a selection of works of the Casa da Xilogravura museum in Campos de Jordão. The show comprises 24 Brazilian artists from the beginning of the 20th century to this day, all of whom in the lineage of the main tendencies of woodcut: the artistic - or erudite - vein and the popular woodcut according to the tradition of Cordel literature. The show is complemented by works gleaned from private collections of notable Brazilian artists such as Gilvan Samico, Raimundo de Oliveira and José Roberto Aguilar.

The Casa da Xilogravura was founded in Campos do Jordão in 1987 on the initiative of Prof. Antonio F. Costella, in order to collect, store and exhibit woodcuts, engravings with a matrix engraved in wood. The only institution of its kind in Brazil, the Casa da Xilogravura permanently exhibits a part of its collection, which encompasses 1257 Brazilian artists, as well as artists from abroad, which permits a comprehensive view on the whole history of woodcut in Brazil and worldwide. The museum also showcases woodcuts for everyday use, such as tarot cards, labels, Cordel booklets, posters, books, newspapers etc. Additionally, the museum organizes temporary exhibitions, courses and other cultural events.

According to Costello "it is safe to say that the indigenous people were the first to take an active interest in woodcut on Brazilian territory. The usage of wooden matrixes to print ritual drawings of ink on human skin and, more rarely, on parts of clothing, has been confirmed for various indigenous tribes, such as Canelas, Apinajés and Xavantes, who excelled on account of their craftsmanship and the variety of their models.”

In the aftermath of the transfer of the royal family from Portugal to Brazil in 1808, the newly inhabited territory saw the founding of typographic workshops hitherto not permitted by the Portuguese government in the colony: The Impressão Régia (the printing house of the government), the Arquivo Militar and the Colégio das Fábricas, which housed the Estamparia de Chitas and the Fábrica das Cartas de Jogar, an important monopoly of the government and economic stronghold of the printing shop. In the first half of the 19th century, all woodcutters used to be foreigners, and the first lessons on woodcutting were to be held only after 1860, in the Instituto Artístico of the brothers Fleiss and Carl Linde. As was the case in Europe, the whole 19th century witnessed the imprint of woodcuts on the most varied printing materials, only to be later on replaced by metal stamps. Adolf Kohler (1882 – 1950), a German immigrant who held a woodcut class in the Horto Florestal in São Paulo, is regarded as one of the last representatives of his trade in Brazil. It was only after the saturation achieved by illustrational engraving that the heyday of the “liberal” woodcutting took over. This process was initiated by artists such as Lasar Segall (1891-1957), who employed woodcutting as a means of artistic expression. The artist created a large collection of woodcuts of a profoundly expressionist style, which took shape during a period of three decades and whose peak was reached in the 1940s, with the engravings of the Mangue series.

Besides Lasar Sagall, other artists representing the collection of the Casa da Xilogravura museum at this exhibition are Célio Rosa, Clayton de Araújo, Denise Müller, Fabio Sapede, Luis Carlos Officina, Adolf Kohler, Sussumo Harada, J.Borges, Márcia Santtos, Maringelli, Ciro Fernandes, Hanna Brandt, as well as the founders of the museum themselves: Prof. Antonio Costella and his wife Leda Campestrin, whose cooperation has been an essential element for this exposition to become reality. Alongside with these artists, the exhibition also presents works of Brazilian visual artists, who made use of woodcut as another technique in their important creative arsenal. One of these creations is Raimundo de Oliveira’s “Little Bible” a series of engravings inspired by biblical scene, published posthumously in 1966, after the artist committed suicide, by the galleries Bonino and Petite Galerie, both located in Rio de Janeiro, with a foreword by Jorge Amado, which is partly reproduced here.  There are two other noteworthy pieces of art, namely two engravings by Gilvan Samico, an artist from Pernambuco, whose works, exhibited at the MoMA and at two biennials in Venice, represent redemption in the modern sense of the iconography associated with Cordel literature.


The art educators of the Center for Didactics of Art and Interdisciplinary Education, have been designing a comprehensive educational program for the exhibition  and developed it further together with students within seminars specially arranged for this purpose at the University of Applied Arts. The educational program includes artistic workshops, literary workshops, guided tours, lectures and events developed for a broad audience.

In the workshops, participants are introduced to the technique of woodcutting, create their own artistic prints and are introduced  in a new perspective through guided tours. These tours take a close look at the art works, the artists, the technique, but also the exciting background and current developments in Brazilian woodcut. Workshops as well as guided tours include the history of the Brazilian woodcut and its social role.

The main objective of this cooperation is an exchange between Austria and Brazil in the context of the preparations for the independence celebration in 2022. By means of an exhibition on a specific folk culture from the north of Brazil, young people and a broader audience visiting the Cultural Center are to be familiarized with the culture of Brazil.

(Carlos da Fonseca, Marcelo Cardoso Gama, Ruth Mateus-Berr, Eva Greisberger, Vanessa Gruber)


  • 20th Century Brazilian Woodcut: From Illustration to Modern Art | With prints from the collection of the Casa da Xilogravura museum

  • From 21.12.2021 to 19.3.2021

  • Cultural Center Brazil-Austria | Prinz Eugen-Strasse 26, A-1040 Wien
    Tue-Fri 14:00-19:00, Sat-Sun 14:00-18:00

  • Free admission

  • +43 1 512063217

  • Instagram: @centroculturalbr.at

  • www.ccbr.at

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