Xilography (Woodcutting)
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 09:22

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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Chiselled wood engravings, from which popular illustrations are obtained, have been used widely from the 19th century on the covers of cordel literature pamphlets.

It was also used to print labels for bottles, ‘cachaça’ (sugarcane alcohol) and other products.

Despite little knowledge remaining about its origins, it is believed that popular Northeast xylography was brought by Portuguese missionaries who taught the technique to the Indians.

The templates for printing the illustrations are almost always chiselled in ‘cajazeira’ wood (a tree from the Anacardiaceae family – Spondias lutea L.), a soft, easy to work with and abundant raw material in the Northeast region of Brazil.

Woodcutters use only a penknife or a well-sharpened domestic knife.

Among the most well-known popular engravers who gave their contribution to Northeast xylography were Manoel Serafim, Inocêncio da Costa Nick, Mestre Noza, Zé Caboclo, Enéias Tavares Santos, J. Borges, and others.

Some popular poets also dedicated themselves to preparing templates to illustrate their own pamphlets like: José Martins dos Santos, Manoel Apolinário, Cirilo, Dila, Damásio Paulo Valderedo and José Costa Leite. The latter uses his ‘quicé’ or ‘caxirenguengue’, a worthless old knife, with or without a handle, to engrave his woodcuttings.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some intellectuals and researchers began to publish a series of albums with woodcuts made by popular Northeast artists. With this, xylography gained the status of art, as well as national and international exposure. Among these albums, the following can be cited: 20 xilogravuras do Nordeste (20 Woodcutters from the Northeast), organised by Evandro Rabello in 1970, with a foreword by Ariano Suassuna; Transporte na zona canavieira: vinte e uma xilogravuras de José Costa Leite (Transport in the Sugarcane Zone: Twenty-one Woodcuts by José Costa Leite), published by the Instituto do Açúcar e do Álcool (Sugar and Alcohol Institute) in 1972, with a foreword by Mário Souto Maior; Xilografia: poema de Marcus Accioly gravada por José Costa Leite (Xilography: Poem by Marcus Accioly Engraved by José Costa Leite) (1974); Enéias Tavares Santos: xilogravura popular (Enéias Tavares Santos: Popular Woodcutter), 1976.
Recife, 3 July 2003.
(Updated on 16 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.


PONTUAL, Roberto. Notas sobre a xilogravura popular brasileira. IN: FOLKCOMUNICAÇÃO. São Paulo: USP, 1971.
TRANSPORTES na zona canavieira: vinte e uma xilogravuras de José Costa Leite. Rio de Janeiro: IAA; Divisão de Administração Serviço de Documentação, 1972.
XILOGRAVURA. Arte e cultura. Disponível em: Acesso em: 14 maio 2002.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Xilography (Woodcutting). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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