The occasion was historic, not only because it represented the first trip by a Brazilian head of state to the Middle East, but also because it provided Brazilians with a first-hand perception of Egypt in the 19th century, raising widespread interest in its vast cultural heritage.
In fact, Pedro II was the first head of state from the Americas to explore Egypt. The emperor developed a life-long passion for Egypt and the Arab world, which led him to undertake a second voyage to the region in 1876. He then cruised the Nile, taking notes in his diary as he experienced the many treasures and landscapes all the way south to modern-day Sudan.
Pedro II ruled Brazil for nearly half a century, from 1840 to 1889. As his biographer, J M Carvalho states: "Given the long duration of his government and the transformations which took place in Brazil during his rule, no other head of state has left a stronger imprint on Brazilian History."
The emperor helped to consolidate the integrity of the vast Brazilian territory, abolished slavery, and established the basis for a representative system of government, with regular elections and freedom of the press.
A man of culture, familiar with several languages including an advanced understanding of Arabic, Pedro II was particularly interested in photography and its aesthetic possibilities. He collected more than 20,000 photographs on various topics. Indeed, his was considered the largest collection of photographs owned by a 19th-century ruler. When in Egypt, he acquired hundreds of images and became acquainted with some of the best photographers of the time. Noteworthy is the iconic picture of the emperor and his wife by the Sphinx, taken by Pascal Sébah.
With the advent of the republic in 1889, Pedro II went into exile in Europe and donated his private collection to the Brazilian National Library, with the request that it be named after empress Thereza Christina Maria. The collection is now preserved at the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN) in Rio de Janeiro.
The exhibition "Back to Egypt: A Brazilian Collection of Photographs" is running from 3 to 30 November at the Gezira Art Center in Zamalek. It includes more than 90 high-resolution copies of these photographs, as well as a sample of the diary entries by the emperor during his travels. It is a partnership between the Embassy of Brazil and the Ministry of Culture of Egypt, cooperating to promote art and culture.
I am pleased and honoured to present this exhibition to the Egyptian public. It is a reminder of how Egypt has fascinated every corner of the world throughout different periods of its unique history. It is also an incentive for Brazilians and Egyptians to continue joining forces in the promotion of culture, for the benefit not only of our societies but also of a wider international audience.