Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva
Near the Corner of 40th Street, Bryant Park, Manhattan
This statue of the naturalist and hero of Brazilian independence Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva sits on the west side of Bryant Park, towering glumly over the sidewalk near the corner of 40th Street, a stern counterpoint to the much-smaller and more engaging figure of Benito Juarez, the first native-born president of Mexico, which is just a few dozen feet up Sixth Avenue. Which was about the spot where Andrada’s statue originally stood before it was moved with not a small amount of controversy in the 1990s, during Bryant Park’s famous renovation.
The figure of Andrada is larger than life size, nearly nine feet tall. He is standing with his heels together and his right knee slightly bent, as though he is about to take a step — or kick a passerby in the head. Andrada is wearing colonial garb, with his left hand clutching a coat or cloak that is slung over his left shoulder and his right hand holding at his side what appears to be a rolled-up piece of paper. On the whole, Andrada looks like he just stepped out of an unsuccessful audition for the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.
The statue was a gift to the City of New York from Brazil, for whatever reason. The New York Times reporter who covered the statue’s dedication called it “symbolic of Brazilian-United States amity.” An amity that is scarcely heard about today.
The figure was made by the Brazilian sculptor Jose Otavio Correia Lima, who won the commission in a competition sponsored by the Brazilian government.
The statue was dedicated on April 22, 1955, in a ceremony presided over by the infamous parks commissioner, Robert Moses. Cardinal Francis Spellman gave the invocation, and there was the typical blah, blah, blah from the Manhattan Borough President Hulan E. Jack; Edward J. Sparks, the deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs; the Brazilian Ambassador to the United States, Joao Calos Muniz; and Mayor Robert F. Wagner.
Moses’s remarks were the most interesting, if not the most delusional. He said that the statue was another sign that the Avenue of the Americas, which had been renamed just six years earlier, was “coming into its own,” according to a story in The Times the next day. Moses mused that one day Sixth Avenue would resemble the Prado in Havana, with a landscaped promenade down the middle. (The figure of Andrada is one of six statues commemorating historical figures from the Americas along the avenue from SoHo to Central Park.)
The mayor first thanked Brazil for the statue, calling it “a lasting reminder of the aspirations and ideals common to both nations.” He then droned on about Andrada’s considerable and convoluted contributions to Brazilian independence. The ambassador then tried to say something about how the location, next to the landmark library and on Sixth Avenue, was somehow fitting for Andrada, who he called a statesman, scientist and man of letters.
The figure, which was cast by Fundicao Cavina Ltda., Rio de Janeiro, is bronze; the pedestal is polished Barre granite.
The marble pedestal at Jose’s feet is fairly festooned with various inscriptions. On the right-hand side, as you are reading it, it says:
JOSE BONIFACIO DE ANDRADA E SILVA
PATRIARCH OF THE INDEPENDENCE
STATESMAN —- SCIENTIST —- AUTHOR
On the left, it says:
THIS STATUE IS THE GIFT OF THE
UNITED STATES OF BRAZIL
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
On Nov. 19, 1959, a ceremony was held to mark the installation of floodlights at the statue. Andrada’s great-great-grandson, who was the vice consul for Brazil in New York, was a guest of honor. As was William Cullen Bryant Goodwin, the great-great-grandson of the poet for whom Bryant Park is named.
Andrada’s statue became a symbol of the power of the city’s Art Commission in 1988. Bryant Park at the time had become a decayed center of drug activity, and a corporation was formed to refurbish it in a historic approach to civic renewal. The problem was that the corporation didn’t include Andrada in its landscaped vision for the park, and the Art Commission blocked the plan until it did. The revised plan called for Andrada to be moved from the corner of 42nd Street to a nook near the corner of 40th.
Andrada was born at Villa De Santos, near São Paulo on June 13, 1763. He was a geologist and mine inspector in 1819 when he got caught up in Brazilian politics, becoming one of the right-hand men of the Portuguese prince Dom Pedro, who led a revolt for independence. Andrada eventually had a falling-out with the prince, and was exiled for six years. On his return, though, he was hailed as one of Brazil’s founding fathers. He died on April 6, 1838.
Updated September 2007