“American Dominions” Revisited: Inventions in Brazilian Architecture
Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
George Kubler’s The Shape of Time discusses the impetus to create objects of art and architecture. Both problem-solving inventions and their countless variations are concerns of this text, but his earlier comprehensive Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and their American Dominions, 1500 to 1800, also demonstrates his approach to the artifact. Among many other things, this text traces the variations and adaptations of Portuguese building types created in the colony of Brazil. Because Spain and Portugal was a survey, neither the depth of variation and artistic invention nor the degree of transcultural mixing of various traditions could possibly be mined thoroughly.
One source for Kubler’s examples was the Colonial Catholic church architecture created during the eighteenth century in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Contemporary scholars have continued to work there, exploring the architecture he discussed, using his methods and more, comparing structures to each other as well as to earlier structures built in Portugal, elsewhere in Europe and Africa. In colonial Ouro Preto, building design was affected by the problems of working with local materials, pigments, etc. as well as the particularities of the religious and social conditions within the colony of Europeans, Brazil-born residents and African slaves. This syncretic architecture can be understood as a collection of creative solutions to the problems at hand.
In this paper, three intertwining issues are explored through the lenses of Kubler’s ideas about invention and variation as well as post-colonial theory and urban morphology: 1) why churches for almost identical congregations in Ouro Preto dedicated to the same saint have radically different forms; 2) which buildings were influential as generators of form in the region and why, and 3) the problem of the concept “genius” when discussing art forms as complex as monumental architecture such as these colonial churches.