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0065 Gerbert Verheij, Art and politics in the former "Portuguese Colonial Empire". The monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Lourenço Marques

RIHA Journal 0065 | 31 January 2013

Art and politics in the former "Portuguese Colonial Empire". The monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Lourenço Marques

Gerbert Verheij

Peer review and editing managed by:

Pedro Flor, Instituto de História da Arte, Universidade Nova de Lisboa


José Guilherme Abreu, Maria Helena Maia


In 1940, a monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque is inaugurated in the former capital of the Portuguese Colony of Mozambique, Lourenço Marques. The result of a lenghty commissioning process, this homage to one of the main heroes of the colonial pantheon becomes a center-piece in the many political rituals which had become common-place during the 1930s. The concepts of aura and cult value are used to analyse its "traditionalist" aesthetics and the role it played in political spectacles, arguing that it obeys a strategy of representation of the public space as "Empire".


Colonial statuary in the former Portuguese colonies

  1. In the context of the study of the relationships between art and politics in the 1930s and 1940s, one of the lesser known cases (outside Portugal) is the art created under António Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo ("New State").1 This dictatorial regime, final outcome of the military coup of 1926, lasted from 1933 till the 1974 revolution, being marked, during the 1930s, by an (ambiguous) approximation to the fascist regimes which, for a time, seemed to head towards a "New Order" in Europe.2 One of the more interesting dimensions of this art is its overseas projection in what was at the time called the "Portuguese Colonial Empire", only comparable to the efforts of Mussolini's Italy to create a "Fascist Empire" in Northern Africa through major investments in urbanism and architecture.3 Portuguese urban heritage in the former colonies (Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde, Guinea, Macau, Portuguese State of India and East Timor) has been receiving increased scholarly attention, which shows the interest in this still largely unexplored area of artistic production.4 An overview of the architecture, urbanism and public art in Portuguese Africa has recently been published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.5 The study mentions a large, though not exhaustive, number of statues and monuments, most of which have, after the independencies of the former colonies, been displaced or destroyed.

  2. Almost without exceptions, the African statues were created in Portugal by Portuguese sculptors. The reason would not only have been the lack of qualified artists in the colonies, where artistic education was only slowly implanted, mostly on private initiative and frequently challenging both official academism and colonial policy.6 Colonial policy explicitly aimed at "Portugalizing" overseas territories, seen as integral part of the nation.7 For the main architect of the new "colonial empire", Armindo Monteiro (1896-1955), minister of Colonies during 1930-1935, the question at stake was this: "Portugal can be just a nation that possesses colonies or it can be an Empire. The latter would be the spiritual reality of which the colonies are an embodiment."8 The second option would be adopted in the 1930 Colonial Act, appended to the new Constitution of 1933. The second article states it "is of the organic essence of the Portuguese Nation to fulfil the historical function of possessing and colonizing overseas territories and to civilize the native population [...]".9 As José Manuel Fernandes wrote, this "political readiness to define a 'colonial space' in ideological and mythical terms, with a view to creating a new idea of Empire based on strong historical symbolism and commemorative practices", is clearly legible in its public art, architecture and urbanism.10

  3. General studies on 20th century Portuguese sculpture usually mention the main works created for Africa, but abstain from examining this specifically colonial context.11 Taking into account the places and social contexts for which these monuments were commissioned implies analysing their ideological objectives beyond mere propaganda and, above all, the political uses they were put to. They need to be studied at the crossroads of urbanism, colonialism and public art,12 including the commemorative and expositive context of which they were often part, and especially the panoply of ceremonial practices which was one of their main purposes.13

  4. This approach means going beyond the perspective, often adopted in relation to Portuguese 20th century sculpture, of artistic "delay", a persistence of 19th century aesthetics well into the 20th century due to the conservative nature of the Portuguese political regime.14 Such a resistance against "modernism", or, more precisely, this balancing between modernizing and traditionalist forms, surely was a major issue.15 It was, however, a more complex question than simple incapacity or unwillingness to innovate, as I think the case of the Monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque which is analysed here shows. This monument, inaugurated in 1940 after a lengthy process, actually in the Museum of Military History in Maputo, was dedicated to one of the main figures of the Portuguese pantheon of colonial heroes. Considering the official investment in this work, the place where it was installed and the political role it would fulfil, it is arguably the most important monument placed in the former colony of Mozambique.

  5. This article is organized in four parts. At first, the lengthy commissioning process is resumed, taking into account the local and national context and the ideological investment in the figure of Mouzinho de Albuquerque during the early 1930s. Next, I will confront the program and final project of the monument, paying special attention to the way the colonial context was translated into images of stone and bronze. Then, the social use of the monument in political rituals will be explored, in order to evaluate its role in the staging of a politically instrumental hero cult. Finally, the intermingling of political, social and aesthetic values in the monument and the political stage it provided will be studied, taking as a point of departure Walter Benjamin's concept of the aura.


A monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Lourenço Marques

  1. The urban history of Lourenço Marques, former capital of the Colony of Mozambique (actual Maputo), is relatively well studied.16 Born from a small settlement in the extreme south of Mozambique, it becomes increasingly important during the 19th century as one of the main entrances to the south-African hinterland. In 1887 it is granted the status of city. The same year, a Public Works Expedition, made up of military engineers, arrives from Lisbon to provide the new city with appropriate infrastructures and its first urbanization plan, signed by António J. Araújo.17 The plan organizes the future expansion of the city according to a regular network, still observable today, formed by streets, blocks, squares and public buildings. At the same time, it restructured the streets of the old Baixa ("Downtown", the old settlement) and made an effort to expand transportation infra-structures (port, railway) which laid down the foundations for Lourenço Marques' rapid growth during the 20th century as one the main ports on the East-African coast.

  2. Lourenço Marques is thus a very recent city, marked by its modern urbanism and architecture; but it is also a city "without memory", as remarks André Ferreira,18 in the sense there are almost no traces left from before the 20th century. As one local historian wrote in 1960, "the past of Lourenço Marques consumed itself, leaving no traces."19 It was, as well, a very diverse city, which never really had a fixed identity. While dominated by foreign, especially British, interests, other communities – African, Indian, European, Chinese – thrived and, until the Estado Novo put an end to their (public) cultural assertion during the 1930s, marked their presence.20

  3. A portrait of the city on the eve of the 1930s can be found in the first four volumes edited by the photographer José dos Santos Rufino which sought to depict the colony, published in Hamburg in 1929 with introductory texts by Mário Costa (1893-1968).21 The city's representation is marked, on the one hand, by its commercial infrastructures; not by coincidence, one of its first major buildings was the neo-classical railway station of 1910.22 On the other hand, it appears as a distinctly bourgeois city, marked by its large, tree-lined avenues, residences and leisure equipments such as stores and theatres. It is this dimension (explicitly opposed to "Africa") which, according to Mário Costa, defines the image of the city:

Large avenues, some of which about four thousand metres long, flanked by beautiful cottages which, for their part, parade small, capriciously designed gardens[;] an geometrical, elegant and correct arborisation; with a seal of civilization that impresses the most refined tourist; a large, clean and hygienic city [...]23

  1. Even after becoming the colonial capital, state investment in a "proper", monumental image of the city is slow, with major building projects to house the new administrative structures endlessly postponed.24 Complaints about the "monotony", lack of central points and grandiosity are frequent. Thus, in 1925 Brito Camacho (1862-1932), High Commissioner to Mozambique in 1921-1923, regrets the lack of monumental buildings.25 A decade later, local official João José Soares Zilhão (1887-1979) characterizes the general aspect of the city by its "lack of spirituality" and its "restrictive, not to say coarse, utilitarian aim."26 Still in 1945, the geographer José de Oliveira Bóleo (1905-1974) writes that:

The grid, which at first enchants, ends up fatiguing with its monotony. One observes the absence of centres of urban convergence, public squares with monuments, secondary centres [...]27

  1. As we will see, the idea of "monumentalizing" and "nationalizing" the city is one of several objectives present in the process of the monument in question.

  2. After the successful defeat of local resistance to the Portuguese colonial project in 1895-1897,28 in 1898 it is made capital of the Colony, at the expense of the Island of Mozambique in the north. Mouzinho de Albuquerque (1855-1902)29 played, together with António Enes (1848-1901),30 a decisive role in these military campaigns, which secured Portuguese sovereignty of the area. His famous defeat and capture of the last emperor of the Kingdom of Gaza, Ngungunyane (c. 1850-1906),31 catapulted him almost overnight to a truly mythical status, giving a concrete example of the Portuguese "colonizing capacities" and boosting the national auto-esteem, which had been deeply affected by the British Ultimatum of 1890.32 Mouzinho de Albuquerque would become, for more than half a century, a model of unattainable heroism, exhaustively explored by the Estado Novo.

  3. It is in this context that the proposal for a monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque arises during the 1910s, shortly after the inauguration in 1910 of the monument to António Enes.33 It would, thus, be its logical companion. In 1916 a commission, presided by the Governor-General, is formed.34 Shortly after, Portugal enters the First World War, and further steps are delayed until the last years of the First Portuguese Republic (1910-1926), with substantive increases of the monument's funds in the first years of the military dictatorship.35

  4. In 1928, a sub-commission is created in Lisbon to study and realize a competition among metropolitan artists. It is mostly composed of officials or ex-combatants who participated in the Mozambican military campaigns of the 1890s and 1916-1918, some of whom afterwards made careers in the colonial administration of Mozambique and elsewhere.36 But it is only in 1936 that the competition is held, after a major contribution the year before of 450 000 escudos, almost half of the fund, by the colonial government of Governor-General José Cabral (1879-1956).

  5. As one historian notes, it is fundamentally between the 1920s and 1950s that the city gains effectively an urban dimension, accompanying its growing national status.37 During these decades, one of the main investments aims at the reformulation and reinforcement of the city's public spaces, a central project of which was the creation of a large square named after Mouzinho de Albuquerque (actual Praça da Independência). This square will become one of the main centres of the city, accompanying the movement of business and services from the old Baixa to the new avenues around the square. The official's monument was, probably during the 1920s, inserted as centre-piece of the large roundabout in the middle of the square, built to organize traffic between the Baixa, the new avenues inland and the booming residence areas to the north-east (Polana, Ponta Vermelha). The importance given to this square can be deducted from its qualification as "monumental", which no other square merited, and is confirmed by the inclusion of a new Town Hall and Cathedral.38

  6. As already mentioned, the lack of proper monuments is largely felt among the cultural elite and officials. Lourenço Marques is held to be "a modern and progressive city, but poorly endowed with buildings and monuments."39 The idea to build a "monumental square" seems therefore to be enthusiastically anticipated, for example by Mário Costa in 1929:

[S]oon construction will start on the great roundabout [rotunda], above the large and animated Avenida Aguiar [actual Avenida Samora Machel], where the monumental equestrian statue to the late glorious Mousinho de Albuquerque will be erected.40

  1. Nonetheless, only from 1935 on these projects will be realized, probably because of financial difficulties in the aftermath of the 1929 crash, with government budgets tightly overseen by financial minister Salazar.41 In 1935, the modern Cathedral project is authorized, being built in 1936-1944, largely financed by the State. The project, a pro bono contribution by the city's railway director Marcial Simões de Freitas e Costa, opts, for aesthetic as well as practical reasons, for a stark formal vocabulary that seeks to take maximum advantage of the use of concrete.

  2. For the Town Hall, built in 1940-1947, a competition among architects is opened, won by Carlos César dos Santos (1893-1966), a Portuguese who had lived in Brazil since 1917. This building contrasts with the modernizing outlook of the Cathedral, recovering the academic ideal of "beauty" both in its austere neo-classical front, organized by a rustic ground level and a superior level animated by the vertical rhythm of composite pilasters, and in its eclectic interiors, scattered with more or less learned references to Portuguese history and architecture.42

  3. The monument was, thus, to be part of new "civic axis" (Fig. 1) with monumental intentions, a new public space which would mark the city's imaginary, centralizing the main local government and religious buildings.43 This also indicates the importance to have a closer look at what "civic cult" or social context it was intended for. As Ferreira has noted, it marks, within its urban context, the introduction of ideological state references in public architecture production.44 Later (probably during the 1960s), this message was written in the pavement in front of the town hall: "Aqui também é Portugal" ("This is also Portugal"). Both History (in the historicist formal language of the town hall) and Present (in the modern, though severe, forms of the Cathedral45) faced the hero which, as well, was seen as the link between past glories and present ambitions.

1 Map of the centre of Lourenço Marques around 1945, with the "civic axis" marked in red. Based on a map published in Moçambique – Documentário Trimestral (1945), Nr. 43 (available online:


Program and project: the representation of a colonial hero

  1. Probably, the colonial propaganda efforts of the mid-30s, to which Mouzinho's deeds were central, boosted the will to finish this monument.46 Mouzinho became the mythical mirror in which the regime could see the Portuguese "colonizing capacities" which it was imposing as foundation for its ideological edifice. It is certainly no coincidence that around the same time another major monument to Mouzinho is proposed, but never realized, in Lisbon.47 Together with other proposed, but unrealized, monuments to Afonso I of Portugal (c. 1109-1185) and Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), it would symbolically represent three "foundational" moments of "national history": the foundation of the nation, the overseas expansion and the consolidation of Portuguese sovereignty in Africa.

  2. As has already been mentioned, the competition opened in March 1936.48 Contrary to the rhetorical customs of the time, its program is quite sober. There is no commendatory preamble to justify the monuments erection, nor is it punctuated by the usual verbal flowerings that would allow the competing artists to grasp the "spirit" of the monument to be projected.49 A precise indication of the structure is, however, mentioned: an equestrian statue on a pedestal with two reliefs on its sides, representing the two major episodes of Mouzinho's military career: the "feat of Chaimite" (28 December 1895), that is, the capturing of Ngungunyane, and the "charge of Macontene" (21 July 1897). In its front, there was to be a bronze allegory representing the colony's tribute to the hero, and on the back side inscriptions which recall the main deeds of Mouzinho's political career as Governor-General of Mozambique. It is, thus, a traditional structure, which recalls so many equestrian monuments of soldiers and kings throughout Europe, preceded by an allegory which reminds the figures of fame which decorate many nineteenth century busts and statues. As we will see, this "traditionalistic" option would be fully explored by the winning project. Besides this traditional tendency, no further mention is made about the desired aesthetics.

2 Unknown photographer, Mouzinho de Albuquerque in 1897. Source: Wikipedia Commons (

  1. Much attention is given to the definition of the two reliefs and especially to the representation of Mouzinho's main fellow officials during his campaigns. The program appealed to the "historical truth" to justify the inclusion of these portraits, but it should be mentioned that most of them were the very members of the Lisbon sub-commission. There was, as well, a widely known iconographic reference available: a famous photograph of 1897 of Mouzinho on his horse during his campaign against the Namarrais tribe (Fig. 2), also reproduced as an aquarelle by Alfredo Roque Gameiro (1864-1935).50 This model would directly inspire the winning project.

  2. Some of these ideas had already been proposed for the Lisbon monument by José Capelo Franco Frazão (1872-1940), Count of Penha Garcia and president of the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa (Lisbon Geographical Society), the projects main backing institution. He defended the dedication of the pedestal to Mouzinho's comrades and the didactic possibilities of the monument. Within the "rebirth of a colonial spirit", the monument should be both tribute and pedagogical example: "The statue of Mouzinho will remind the future generations, with an indisputable authority, of their duty."51

3 Simões de Almeida and António do Couto, Maquete for the Monument to Mouzinho de Albuquerque, 1936. Source: Relatório e contas da Sub-comissão Executiva de Lisboa do Monumento em Lourenço Marques ao Comissário Régio de Moçambique Joaquim Mousinho de Albuquerque, Lisbon 1941

  1. The competition is won by the project "Africa" of the architect António do Couto (1874-1946) and the sculptor José Simões de Almeida (1880-1950), who had worked together on the Marquês de Pombal monument (1914-1934) in Lisbon after the death of its author, Francisco dos Santos (1878-1930). The project (Fig. 3) follows the main topics of the program. The statue adopts a naturalistic aesthetics, very much in the style of Simões de Almeida, taking as its model the 1897 photograph.52 Though often vilified in Portuguese art history, for its obvious 19th century aesthetics,53 it does justice both to the requirements of the program and the intention which the artists stated in their "Descriptive memory".54 There, they mention their preoccupation of a "faithful interpretation" of the hero's personality and the avoidance of "attitudes which would approach the ridiculous."55

  2. The sculptor clearly didn't search to cite the iconographic tradition of anticipated action which, since the Renaissance condottieri, marks the occidental equestrian tradition. This explains the immobility of man and horse, stressing the "serene attitude" and the "deep thoughts" which, according to the artists, would have occupied Mouzinho before his battles.56 The use of a photographic image made it possible to reconcile the "realism" which the required "historical accuracy" asked for and the stereotypical representation necessary for the mythical dimension of the figure, which had already surrounded this image. It is both a portrait and an ideal, enhanced by its scale and immobility, as well as the emphasis on vertical elements in the stern pedestal, animated by the bronze reliefs (Figs. 4-5).

  3. One of these reliefs shows Mouzinho and his fellow officials in the charge of Macontene (Fig. 4).57 The other relief depictures the moment of the capturing of Ngungunyane, when Mouzinho de Albuquerque forces him to sit down in sign of humiliation (Fig. 5).58 The last of these reliefs was modelled by Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975), one of the most important sculptors during the Estado Novo who was also part of the jury. The participation of the jury member on this project is not clear, but comparing both reliefs suggests that Leopoldo de Almeida's more hierarchical compositions and mystifying immobility was considered better suited than his more naturalistic inclined former teacher to the iconographic intentions which it had to express.