In 1886, during the final years of the Monarchy, the painter from Paraíba, Pedro Américo, was commissioned by the imperial government to create a painting depicting the events that led to the foundation of the Brazilian Empire by Emperor Dom Pedro I in 1822.

The painting "Independence or Death" by Pedro Américo

Américo’s work was made available for public viewing in a prominent location, solidifying it as the image of Independence and making the mural the visual representation of the September 7th, 1822 event. Due to its display in a prominent place in the Ipiranga Museum, it acquired a degree of official recognition that turned it into the most recognized and widespread image of the event, and to some extent, the visual identity of that historical occurrence.


The painting "Independence or Death" by Pedro Américo
“Independence or Death” by Pedro Américo.

The canvas by the renowned Paraíban painter Pedro Américo, commissioned by the Paulista Government which at the time was building the Museu do Ipiranga in 1888, illustrates a heroic and impactful September 7th, aligning with the heroic role played by Dom Pedro I. The purpose behind the creation of the canvas wasn’t merely to illustrate Brazil’s Independence, but rather the inception of its empire. Thus, it was necessary for Dom Pedro I’s action to be depicted in a way that could demonstrate the significance of the event while also inspiring pride in Brazilians.

The painting "Independence or Death" by Pedro Américo
“Independence or Death” by Pedro Américo.

In 1886, the imperial counselor Joaquim Inácio Ramalho, then president of the Monument Commission of Ipiranga, entered into a contract with Pedro Américo, in which the artist committed to painting, within three years, a “historical canvas commemorating the proclamation of independence by Prince Regent Dom Pedro on the fields of Ypiranga.” Before beginning the painting, the artist conducted meticulous research on the Independence movement, the attire of the era, and other details.

The painting "Independence or Death" by Pedro Américo
“Independence or Death” by Pedro Américo.

He also studied works by other authors of historical paintings such as Ernest Meissonier and Horace Vernet. The artwork was first exhibited on April 8th, 1888, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and, three months later, it was delivered to the Paulista government. The work pleased art critics, being considered at the time as a “colossal piece” bearing “the mark of a creative imagination and robust skill.”

During the presentation of the artwork at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Pedro Américo delivered a speech in the presence of Emperor Pedro II and his wife, Empress Teresa Cristina, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, and other leaders and authorities.


The painting "Independence or Death" by Pedro Américo
“Independence or Death” by Pedro Américo.

“I am well aware, Sir, that the canvas I dare to present to the descendants or compatriots of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo is unworthy of the high historical subject or the contemplation of Your Majesty. Yet, if it is true that work ennobles the citizen, I feel highly honored to have completed a page destined to commemorate one of the most glorious deeds of Your Majesty’s August Progenitor, and simultaneously the first breath of life of our dear Homeland as a free and independent nation.”


Reference: LYRA, Heitor. História de Dom Pedro II. Ascensão, Fastígio e Declínio. Brazil: Itatiaia, 1977.

IMPERIAL, Museum. Anuário do Museu Imperial. Brazil: Ministério da Educação e Saúde, 1946.

Brazilian History
Matheus Araújo
Founder and Editor at Brazilian History | Website

Matheus is an entrepreneur at Araujo Media, where he serves as CEO and Creative Director. He shares analyses on his personal blog "matheusaraujo.me" and is currently pursuing a degree in Advertising and Propaganda. Moreover, he has a passion for history, particularly that of Brazil, which led him to become the founder and editor of the Brazilian History portal.