Discovering Rio's city center: The National Museum of Fine Arts

Fabio Jardelino | Live the World

November 23, 2022

You have probably heard of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, as the capital of beautiful beaches and music like samba** and bossa nova. Home to legendary monuments, such as the statue of the Christ the Redeemer and the football stadium of Maracanã, the city also holds amazing natural landscapes and cultural treasures. In this article, you will discover the city center of Rio. In this historical neighborhood, amidst the colonial and imperial architecture, you can find the National Fine Artes Museum of Brazil. **

Cultural tour - the highlights

© istock/diegograndi

If you are interested in understanding the Brazilian culture, the best place to start with is the neighborhood of Lapa. Here, you can see impressive colonial architecture, with the "Aqueduto da Carioca" as its most significant symbol. Even today, this imponent structure is one of the main photos used in postcards depicting Rio.

After that, you can continue your cultural route and walk some blocks down to the Evaristo da Veiga Street. Following this path, you will reach Alagoas Square, the heart of the city, where you can find three of the most remarkable historic buildings in the entire country: the Municipal Theater, the National Library, and the National Museum of Fine Arts. The importance of these buildings is both historical and cultural for Brazil, and it would be strongly recommended for you to explore as well.

© istock/R.M. Nunes

You can visit the interior of the Municipal Theater within a guided tour. Each visit can host up to 50 people and lasts approximately 45 minutes, which leaves you enough time to go to the next point of interest - the National Library. This history treasurer is the largest library in Latin America, holding more than 9 million books since 1910, the year of its inauguration. Finally, this cultural journey is going to end at the most splendid destination - the National Museum of Fine Arts.

© istock/AlexandreFagundes

The National Museum of Fine Arts 

© Flickr / Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

The history of the museum starts in 1808, with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Rio de Janeiro, running away from the war against Napoleon. Back then, Dom João VI was the regent of Portugal and came to Brazil bringing a set of artworks from the Portuguese kingdom, some of which remained in the country after his return to Europe. But it was only in 1937 that the museum was officially created by a decree of the president Getúlio Vargas. Until 1979, the National Museum of Fine Arts contained the National School of Fine Arts, when the school was moved. 

© Wikimedia Commons / Secretaria Especial da Cultura do Ministério da Cidadania

The eclectic architecture of the building was designed in 1908 by the architect Adolfo Morales de Los Rios. The construction took place during the following years with the urban modernization of Rio, back then the Federal Capital of Brazil. The architect took the Louvre Museum as a model, however, the design was changed several times, until the final version. The result is an eclectic construction, with facades in different styles. It was inspired by the French and Italian Renaissance and the austere of neoclassicism with ornamental reliefs. In the interior decoration, you can see noble materials, such as marbles and mosaics, stucco, crystals, French ceramics, and statuary. The building was listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute in 1973. 

What not to miss at MNBA

© Wikimedia Commons / Secretaria Especial da Cultura do Ministério da Cidadania

The museum holds the largest and most important collection of Brazilian art of the 19th and the 20th centuries. With more than 17 thousand square meters, the Museum of Fine Arts concentrates a collection of 70 thousand items, including paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, objects, documents, and books. Also, it includes the sessions dedicated to African art, as well as the examples of European colonial art** and contemporary art. It is an indispensable visit** for anyone who wants to understand the paths traced by Brazilian art, especially paintings.

© Jaime Acioli / Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

Although the collection is divided between Brazilian art and International art, the first one is indeed the cherry on the cake. There, you can see the paintings like the famous "The Battle of Guararapes", a monumental canvas that took Victor Meirelles four years to complete (1875-1879). This masterpiece shows how the Brazilians defeated the Dutch and expulsed the invaders from the State of Pernambuco (the history tells that this battle marks the beginning of the Brazilian army). Another important piece that you can see in the exposition is "The First Mass in Brazil", also painted by Victor Meirelles, in 1861. Together with this one, you can see the version by Candido Portinari, from 1948.


© Facebook / Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

The museum is open from Tuesday to Friday, from** 10 AM to 6 PM. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, it is open from 12 PM to 5 PM. You can buy the ticket at the main door of the museum. On Sundays, the entrance is free**.

© Wikimedia Commons / Secretaria Especial da Cultura do Ministério da Cidadania

Discovering Rio's city center is an ultimate cultural journey to understand the Brasilian culture. The National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio is an ode to the arts, and it is one of the best cultural places to explore in the city. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do!

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