Any relationship that lasts 200 years deserves a celebration. The Natural History Museum’s Brazil exhibition explores various aspects of the Austro-Brazilian connection in the context of the natural world…from early expeditions to exploitation and research collaboration.
- The diverse habitats of Brazil also a major focus
- Combines historical and modern-day exhibits
- Runs Jun 8, 2022 – April 23, 2023
- See also:
200 years of relations
(Frontispiece by Joseph Selleny; press photo © NHM Wien, Alice Schumacher)
Any exhibition on Brazil at a natural history museum conjures up stereotypical expectations of ripples across a river surface, the dense canopy of a rainforest, or desolate landscapes left behind once the chainsaws leave.
The Brazil exhibition takes a different perspective, though, seeing the country and its diversity through the lens of a long 200-year relationship with Austria.
That relationship began in the early 1800s when strategic marriage negotiations saw one of the Austrian emperor’s daughters (Maria Leopoldine) marry the heir to the Portuguese crown. He lived in exile in Brazil, since Europe was still busy emptying the ashtrays and wiping down the tables post Napoleon.
Leopoldine did not travel alone to Rio to join her husband. A scientific expedition accompanied her, and we see some of the items that made the return journey to Vienna.
Notable examples include Johann Pohl’s botanical drawings and dried plant specimens, as well as parts of the collection put together by Johann Natterer, who spent some 18 years wandering the South American rainforests.
Of course, today’s Austrian scientists have no interest in sending stuffed animals back home. They focus instead on working with their Brazilian colleagues to help conserve Brazil’s unique environmental diversity and habitats.
Not that the exhibition portrays the Austro-Brazilian relationship as all polite history and an annual exchange of Christmas cards.
We discover, for example, the role played by Austria and its consumers, whether inadvertent or otherwise, in driving exploitation of Brazil’s natural resources.
Beauty and the beast
The exhibition highlights the interesting contrasts within this South American giant.
We have, for example, extraordinary natural beauty coupled with unfathomably large-scale monocultures. Indigenous wisdom and sustainable use of ecosystems, but also a history of enslavement and industrialised resource exploitation.
(View of part of the exhibition area; press photo © NHM Wien, Christina Rittmannsperger)
Inevitably, though, most of the exhibition covers the country’s natural areas. It invites us to go beyond those ubiquitous images of the Amazon rainforest to discover some of Brazil’s other natural delights.
Examples include the long Atlantic coastline, the Caatinga shrublands, the Pantanal tropical wetlands and flooded grasslands, or the Cerrado tropical savanna; the lands of ocelots and giant river otters.
The range of threats to these ecosystems and the consequences for the local and world climate and social economy are obvious.
But the exhibition offers a glimmer of hope by highlighting new projects and insights from both science and indigenous initiatives that might contribute answers to some of the challenges faced in each region.
Tickets, dates & tips
Enjoy a journey into Brazil from June 8th, 2022 to April 23rd, 2023. Any valid ticket to the museum (or a Vienna Pass) includes entrance to the exhibition.
If the flora and fauna of South America interest you, then consider a trip to Schönbrunn Tiergarten (Vienna’s zoo). They have a huge rainforest house, for example.
For a broader tropical flavour, consider the Schönbrunn palm house with its forest palms and fruit trees. Or the imperial butterfly house, just a short walk across the road from the Natural History Museum.
Finally, for more cultural perspective on that original Brazil expedition that accompanied Leopoldine…
Two institutions are running concurrent exhibitions with that focus: the Augarten porcelain museum (June 23rd to October 23rd, 2022) and the palm house in Schönbrunn park (June 25th to September 11th).
- The Weltmuseum Wien ethnographic museum (also over the road): they have a dedicated space for Brazil and contributed items to the Brazil exhibition
- The current special exhibition (until June 26th) in the State Hall of the national Library, which also covers that Brazil expedition
How to get there
Just follow the travel tips at the end of the main museum article.
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna