Newton Cavalcanti (1930 - 2006)

Tema de 'A Mensagem' de Fernando Pessoa (1994)
Theme from 'The Message' by Fernando Pessoa

Linocut on Japanese paper
height: 22cm
width: 32cm

Donated by Museus Castro Maya 1995


Having illustrated literature and published albums of prints, Newton Cavalcanti is known for his visual engagement with mythic tales and popular beliefs. This print reprises the theme of a series of paintings produced by the artist in 1993, investigating the themes of Portuguese poet and novelist Fernando Pessoa's Mensagem. Pessoa's three-part cycle of verse reinterpreted Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580) epic poem the Lusiad, and thus in turn it investigates Portuguese mythology and within this, Sebastianism in particular. A defining aspect of the mythological history of Portugal, Sebastianism derives its name and meaning from the colonial King Sebastian (1554-1578). Under the reign of this young King the Portuguese colonies expanded, but his disappearance in battle (Morocco, 1578) heralded the decline of the Empire. Although Sebastian's death was in all likelihood immediate, he passed into myth as a disappeared King who would one day return, leading Portugal to an eventual Fifth Empire. This popular belief in the return of a saviour king continued well in to the 19th Century, particularly amongst rural inhabitants of Portugal and people of the Brazilian sertão.

The story of Sebastian is tied up with the melancholic lack and longing that characterises traditional Portuguese song and verse, and in both Camões and Pessoa it is intermingled with the central importance of the sea within Portuguese history and mythology. Cavalcanti's image brings to mind the themes and words of 'Mar Português' (Portuguese Sea), the second part of Pessoa's Mensagem. His image of a boat at sea, broken-up into areas of woodcut, recalls Pessoa's frequent evocation of the fallen empire (once held together by Portuguese dominion over the sea) as broken, scattered, and fragmented.

Isobel Whitelegg, 2008

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