Brazil rioters trash priceless artwork in stormed capital buildings

Detail of the damage found on a painting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on January 9, 2023, a day after supporters of Brazil’s far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro invaded the Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)

by Louis GENOT
Agence France-Presse

BRASÍLIA, Brazil (AFP) — Slashed canvas on a modern masterpiece, graffiti spray-painted on statues, a smashed Louis XIV clock: the horde of supporters of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro who invaded Brasilia’s hubs of power at the weekend ransacked everything in their path, including priceless works of art.

The three vandalized buildings — the presidential palace known as the Planalto, the Supreme Court and Congress — are themselves treasures of modern architecture designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

The futuristic constructions, featuring the emblematic curves of the iconic Brazilian architect, are for many what earned the capital — a landmark in the history of urban planning — its classification as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987.

And each building, whose windows were mostly smashed in by the invading mob, was also full of rare furnishings or works by great Brazilian modern artists, or international works donated by other countries.

The Institute of National Artistic Historical Heritage (Iphan) said in a statement that it “deeply deplored the damage caused” and said an expert assessment would be carried soon out to evaluate the restoration needs.

Here are some of the most iconic pieces damaged:

– “Justice” spray-painted –
A monumental granite statue called “Justice,” sculpted in 1961 by Brazilian Alfredo Ceschiatti, sits in front of the Supreme Court, on The Square of the Three Powers, opposite the presidential palace.

Towering more than three meters (10 feet), it represents a blindfolded woman sitting with a sword on her lap.

On Sunday, the stone figure was spray painted with the graffiti tag “Perdeu, mane,” (“You lost, poor fool”), on her chest.

That was the put-down used by one of the judges of the Supreme Court, Luis Roberto Barroso, to address a Bolsonaro supporter who challenged him on the reliability of electronic ballot boxes used in November’s elections, shortly after Bolsonaro lost to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

– Louis XIV clock –
An exquisite clock made by Balthazar Martinot, clock-maker to King Louis XIV of France, was found knocked to the ground on the third floor of the presidential palace, with extensive damage to its brown and gold casing and a gaping hole in place of the dial.

According to the presidency, it was a gift from the Sun King to the Portuguese crown and brought by King Joao VI to Brazil in 1808, when he fled Lisbon as Napoleonic troops approached.

Only two clocks of this type were made by the master horologist: the other, which is half the size, is on display at the Chateau de Versailles.

Restoration of the one in Brasilia will be “very difficult,” said Rogerio Carvalho, who is responsible for the heritage of the presidential palaces.

– Modernist masterpiece stabbed –
The painting “Mulattoes” by Di Cavalcanti, a master of Brazilian modernism, exhibited in the Noble Hall on the third floor of the Presidential Palace, was seriously damaged.

The canvas, completed in 1962 and showing four women, was “stabbed seven times” by rioters, according to the presidency.

“Its value is estimated at eight million reais (about $1.5 million), but this kind of work is usually sold for five times more at auction,” the presidency said.

– Historic table used as barricade –
The work table of Juscelino Kubitschek, the visionary former Brazilian president behind the construction of Brasilia in the middle of the savannah and inaugurated in 1960, was also damaged.

The dark brown table, designed by Oscar Niemeyer and his only daughter Anna Maria, was knocked over and used as a barricade by rioters to block law enforcement officers from entering, the presidency said.

© Agence France-Presse