Museu Paulista [English]

Housed in a building situated on the shores of the Ipiranga River, in the Ipiranga district in São Paulo, to celebrate Brazil’s independence, the Museu Paulista, popularly known as the Ipiranga Museum, was the first public museum founded in São Paulo state and the largest monumental building constructed in São Paulo during the imperial era – Paulista, a noun and an adjective, means someone or something from São Paulo. Built by the engineer and architect Tommaso Gaudenzio Bezzi (1844-1915), the Ipiranga Monument was inaugurated in 1893 when Brazil had become a republic – in a location close to where the Emperor, then Crown Prince, Dom Pedro I proclaimed independence from Portugal in 1822. In 1895 the museum was installed inside the monument-building.

Guilherme Gaensly, ‘Monument Building, façade and right wing’, 1890. Photography. Museu Paulista collection, University of São Paulo. Public domain.

Initially, its collection consisted of the painting Independência ou Morte (‘Independence or Death,’ 1888) by Pedro Américo (1843-1905) and of an old private collection, the so-called Museu Sertório. The republican authorities then decided to dedicate the museum mainly to the acquisition of natural history collections from South America. Not by chance, the German physician and naturalist Hermann von Ihering (1850-1930) was chosen as the first director of the Museu Paulista, occupying the post between 1895 and 1916. Although during von Ihering’s 21-year administration, the institution had primarily operated as a natural history museum, it also accepted donations of historical paintings such as the work Fundação de São Vicente (‘Foundation of São Vicente,’ 1900) by the painter Benedito Calixto (1853-1927), acquired by the state government. Many other works of art were also acquired to form an art gallery at the Museu Paulista focused on painting. In 1917, Afonso Taunay (1876-1958), an acting member of the Historical and Geographical Institute of São Paulo (IHGSP), was nominated director of the museum by the government of São Paulo and was tasked with transforming it into a museum also dedicated to the history of Brazil and, more specifically, the history of São Paulo, anticipating the commemorations for the Centenary of Independence in 1922.

Pedro Américo, ‘Independence or death’, 1888. Oil on canvas, 415 x 760 cm. Museu Paulista collection, Universidade de São Paulo. Public domain.

An engineer from a family of artists and interested in historical studies, Taunay, over the 29 years of his tenure, organized the museum’s historical section in a way that leads visitors on an exhibition tour that forms a narrative on the emergence of the Brazilian nation as a history led by the people of São Paulo (the Paulistas). On this journey, visitors are greeted in the entrance hall by the figures of the bandeirantes Fernão Dias and Raposo Tavares, sculpted in marble by Luigi Brizzolara (1868-1937) – slave raiders and explorers in the colonial era. These two monumental bandeirantes and the paintings alluding to the beginning of the colonial settlement in the captaincy of São Vicente, concluded in the 1930s, constitute the start of a visual journey that continues up the staircase. Here the economic and territorial formation of Brazil is depicted by sculptures of bandeirantes and paintings of the ‘historical economic cycles’ and ends on the first floor, the so-called noble hall, where the visitors find themselves face-to-face with the historical scene of the proclamation of independence and the Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro I, represented in the painting Independência ou Morte (‘Independence or Death’). To increase the space devoted to the exhibition of this historical narrative, the Republican Museum was founded in the city of Itu, in 1921, as an extension of the Museu Paulista located in the state’s interior. Years later, still under Taunay’s management, in 1939, the current Zoology Museum (MZ) of the University of São Paulo (USP) was designed, to which part of the zoology collection was transferred.

Taunay was also responsible for the creation of an ethnography section, previously absent from the museum. In 1946, Brazilian historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (1902-1982), and professor at the University of São Paulo, Taunay’s successor as the institution’s director, created an ethnology section headed by the German-born Brazilian ethnologist Herbert Baldus (1899-1970), which also increased the museum’s status as an important center for anthropological research and exhibition. As well as curating exhibitions on South American indigenous cultures and conducting ethnographic explorations in various Brazilian regions, the museum directorship was also notable for its production and dissemination of a large number of anthropological works written by Brazilian and foreign researchers. In 1989, almost all of this ethnological collection was transferred to the university's Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE).

Almeida Júnior, ‘The Monsoon Departure’, 1897. Oil on canvas, 390 x 640 cm. Museu Paulista collection, Universidade de São Paulo. Public domain.

A series of dismemberments have thus marked the trajectory of the museum since 1905, including the transfer of many paintings from its collection – such as A Partida da Monção (‘The Monsoon Departure,’ 1897) by Almeida Júnior (1850-1899) – to be included in the initial collection of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (the State pinacotheca). This trajectory was not linear, however. The painting Fundação de São Paulo by Oscar Pereira da Silva (‘Foundation of São Paulo,’ 1867-1939), bought for the Pinacotheca, was transferred to the Museu Paulista in 1929, which was when A Partida da Monção was reacquired by Taunay to be shown in a hall, in the Museu Paulista itself, dedicated to ‘monsoons,’ the name given for river expeditions from the coast to inland Brazil, taken as the last bandeirante economic cycle. The full incorporation of the Museu Paulista into the University of São Paulo occurred in 1963 during the administration of Mário Neme (1912-1973), although the 1934 federal decree that created the university had already established the incorporation of the museum as a complementary institution to expand the scope of university activities and teaching. A series of USP professors have acted as directors of the museum, one of them being Ulpiano Bezerra de Meneses (1936), responsible for formulating the 1990 Master Plan, which defined the institutional area of the museum, after these dismemberments, as a museum dedicated exclusively to history, focused on the problematization of material culture as a document for interpreting the past.

The museum today possesses more than 125,000 items, including iconography, furniture, objects, and textual documents from the seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth. Its collection has been continually expanded, especially concerning the history of São Paulo from 1850 to 1950. It was closed for renovation work in 2013, aiming to restore and expand its area to provide accessibility, and it was reopened in 2022, during the bicentenary of Brazil’s Independence, in dialogue with social movements that demand a contemporary and critical approach to such celebratory evocations. The museum now exhibits its historical collection alongside works by indigenous and black artists.

Editor's note: The museum's journal, Anais do Museu Paulista, vol. 27, 2019, has a special issue in English on its historical painting collection. Bandeirantes were the colonial-era explorers and slave raiders, mainly based in São Paulo, of Portuguese and indigenous ancestry, who expanded the Portuguese settlement into the interior of South America. Since the late 19th century, Paulistas made the bandeirantes their foundation myth, supposedly explaining their economic power, industrial development, and adventurous ethos. They are celebrated in books on the history of São Paulo, paintings, monumental statues, and toponomy throughout the city and the state. This has been denounced by indigenous activists as a violent and colonial narrative that erases the role of the bandeirantes in genocide, ethnocide, and slavery.

How to cite:
Silva, Adriana de Oliveira, and Thaís Chang Waldman. 2024. “Museu Paulista”. Translated by David Rodgers. In Enciclopédia de Antropologia. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, Departamento de Antropologia.

ISSN: 2676-038X (online)

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date of publication

Adriana de Oliveira Silva and Thaís Chang Waldman

Translated by David Rodgers


Museu Paulista's website in English

Museum exhibitions in English

ALVES, Ana Maria, O Ipiranga apropriado: ciência, política e poder (o Museu Paulista, 1893-1922), São Paulo, História Social USP/ Humanitas, 2001

BREFE, Ana Cláudia, O Museu Paulista: Affonso de Taunay e a memória nacional (1917-1945), São Paulo, Unesp, 2005

CARVALHO, Paula Carolina de Andrade, “O Museu Sertório: uma coleção particular em São Paulo no final do século XIX (primeiro acervo do Museu Paulista)”, Anais do Museu Paulista: História e Cultura Material, São Paulo, v. 22, n. 2, p. 105-152, jul-dez. 2014

ELIAS, Maria José, Museu Paulista: memória e história, Tese (Doutorado em História Social), Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras, e Ciências Humanas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, 1996

FRANÇOZO, Mariana. “O Museu Paulista e a história da antropologia no Brasil entre 1946 e 1956”, Revista de Antropologia, v.48, n.2, São Paulo, USP, 2005, p.585-612

GUILHOTTI, Ana Cristina & LIMA, Solange & MENESES, Ulpiano (orgs.), Às margens do Ipiranga (1890-1900): exposição do centenário do edifício do Museu Paulista da USP, São Paulo, Museu Paulista/USP, 1990

JUNIOR, Carlos Lima & NERY, Pedro, “From the “Paulista peasant” to the “Independence men”: interpretations under dispute over the national past in the Hall of Honor of Museu Paulista”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 27, p.1-47, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2019

LIMA, Solange & CARVALHO, Vânia, “São Paulo, antiga, uma encomenda da modernidade: as fotografias de Militão nas pinturas do Museu Paulista”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v.1, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 1993, p.147-98

MAKINO, Miyoko, “Ornamentação do Museu Paulista para o primeiro centenário: construção de identidade nacional na década de 1920”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 10/11, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2003, p. 167-95

MARINS, Paulo, “Nas matas com pose de reis: a representação de bandeirantes e a tradição da retratística monárquica europeia”, Revista do IEB, n.44, São Paulo, IEB, 2007, p.77-104

MARINS, Paulo, “Introduction: Museums/Dossier - History Painting in the collection of the Museu Paulista”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 27, p.1-11, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2019

MATTOS, Cláudia, “Da palavra à imagem: sobre o programa decorativo de Affonso Taunay para o Museu Paulista”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 6/7, p.123-145, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2003

MENESES, Ulpiano, “O Museu Paulista”, Estudos Avançados, v.8, n.º 22, p.573-8, São Paulo, IEA/USP, 1994

MONTEIRO, Michelli Cristine Scapol, “A sinuous path: Museu Paulista and the appropriations of Fundação de São Paulo, by Oscar Pereira da Silva”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 27, p.1-37, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2019

MORAIS, Fábio Rodrigo, “Uma coleção de história em um museu de ciências naturais: o Museu Paulista de Hermann von lhering”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v.16, n.1, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2008

NASCIMENTO, Ana Paula, “Between friction and serenity, the pathway to the countryside: the panels of Wasth Rodrigues in the peristyle of Museu Paulista”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 27, p.1-59, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2019

OLIVEIRA, Maria Cecília, “Museu Paulista: espaço de evocação do passado e reflexão sobre a história”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v.10/11, p.105-126, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2004

POLIDORI, Eduardo, “Fundação de São Vicente, by Benedito Calixto: from the order to the exhibition at Museu Paulista (1898-1939)”, Anais do Museu Paulista, v. 27, p.1-32, São Paulo, Museu Paulista, 2019

TAUNAY, Afonso, Guia da secção histórica do Museu Paulista, São Paulo, Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1937

WALDMAN, Thaís, Entre batismos e degolas: (des)caminhos bandeirantes em São Paulo, Tese (Doutorado em Antropologia Social), Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras, e Ciências Humanas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, 2018

WITTER, José Sebastião; BARBUY, Heloisa (org.). Um monumento no Ipiranga: história de um edifício centenário e sua recuperação. São Paulo: FIESP/CIESP/SESI/SENAI/IRS, 1997