Brazilian Popular Xylography and "Cordel" Literature

The Popular Brazilian Xylography

Xylography is one of the oldest methods of printing figures and texts, the first records date from the 5th century, according to historians, possibly created by Chinese. The techinique became common in Europe during the Middle Ages, first in Germany and France with the popularization of paper and later and, later, it spread throughout the European Territory. 

Image: José Costa Leite

Xylography can be described as a kind of stamp. First, a carving of a figure is made on a wooden plate, which acts as a matrix for transfering the image to the paper. Then the drawing in high relief is painted with a printing ink and in the last step is transfered to the paper. 

Image: Memorial J. Borges

The Xylography arrives in Brazil 

The xylography was taken to Brazil by the Portuguese along with the typography and became popular in the northeastern region of the country taking on new forms. It developed in the cordel literature, portraying scenes from the culture and daily life of the Northeast with the folk and sometimes mythical figures. 

Learn about some of the most best-known masters of xylography in Brazil

J. Borges

José Francisco Borges, ou,  J. Borges as he prefers to be called, is known inside and outside the country as one of the best xylographer and popular poets. 

Image: Memorial J.Borges
Image: Memorial J. Borges
Abrão Batista

Poet, xylographer, sculptor and ceramist. Throughout his career, Abrão Batista produced over 200 titles and is owner of an unmistakable trait. 

Image: Abrão Batista

José Costa Leite

José Costa Leite started in the art of cordel literatur and engraving at the age of 20 years old, owner of a very special techinique, the artist has already exhibited his work in the United State, France and Chile. 

Image: José Costa Leite

The xylography inspires new arts and artists

The xylography is more commonly found in the Cordel Literature, however, it has been inspiring new forms of expression for some time. We highlight here the pernambucano (from state of Pernambuco) Perrom Ramos, plastic artist who reinterprets famous paintings and other objects mixing traditional and contemporary language in his creations. 

Reinterpretaion of " The Dance" from Henri Matisse
Reinterpretation of "The wounded deer" from Frida Kahlo

Cordel Literature

Cordel Literature has its origins in Europe with the Medieval Troubadorism around the 12th century. The troubadours sang and spread news and stories to the population, who at the time were illiterate. This form of expression was a very common practice in countries like France, England, Spain and Portugal. 

The term "Cordel" (String) is of Portuguese heritage, the texts printed in leaflets, were sold at fairs, hung on ropes, twine or strings. "We call Cordel Literature loose sheets, flyers or leaftleats, popular or semi-popular, that were sold on a string: romances, novels, plays ec".(Guerreiro, 1978:68).

In other words, the designation of the expression "string literature" is due to the way in wich these texts were marketed, and not necessarily the aesthetic form. 

In Brazil, the techinique arrived in Rio de Janeiro together with the Portuguese Real Family in the year of 1808 and gained new regional themes, spreading stories in a simple easy way to understand. Later it was incorporated and became a traditional literature of the popular culture in Brazil. 

Image: Instagram

You don´t buy love

There is no change in joy

Character has no pledge

Well wish we create

And in life we learn: 

Happiness is not sold

Because it is not a commodity

The "cordelistas" writers recite the verses in a melodious and cadenced way, often accompanied by a viola. To convince buyers at fairs, they also do exciting and  lively readings or recitations. 

Image: Unknown author
Trust poets more

Because they are more faithful

Distrust of newspapers

Who lies in their roles 

Saying in squares and fairs

What true news

Are those of the "strings" (cordéis)


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