Engineer, archaeologist and politician
Ricardo Severo da Fonseca e Costa was born in Lisbon in 1869. He was the son of José António da Fonseca e Costa, a trader in Angola, and of Mariana da Cruz da Fonseca e Costa. He died in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1940.
An engineer, archaeologist and architect, he graduated in Civil Engineering (public works) in 1890, and as a Civil Engineering (Mining) in 1891, at the Porto Polytechnic Academy.
He helped found the Carlos Ribeiro Society, in operation from 1887 to 1898, and the Revista de Ciências Naturais e Sociais [Journal of Natural and Social Sciences] (1890 to 1898). The members of the Society, inspired by the archaeologist Carlos Ribeiro (1813-1882), gave special relevance to the ethnic origins of the Portuguese people, a central theme to the archaeological research that Severo also worked on in the magazine Portugália: Materiais para o Estudo do Povo Português [Materials for the Study of the Portuguese People](1899-1908), which he founded, edited and directed.
When the Republican revolution began in Porto on 31 January 1891, Ricardo Severo followed his political convictions and played a rather active role in the whole process.
As the movement failed, and probably because he wanted to escape eventual persecutions, Severo fled to Brazil and settled in São Paulo. Here, he wrote and article on the Sertório Museum in 1892, through which he met Ramos de Azevedo (1851-1928) who invited him to work in his office.
In 1893, he married Francisca Santos Dumont, sister of the inventor Alberto Santos Dumont (1873-1932) and daughter of the king of coffee, Henrique Dumont. The couple had eight children, four of them born in Portugal and four in Brazil. Despite his intense professional activity in several areas, he never neglected his family, to which he was dedicated.
He returned to Portugal at the end of the 19th century where he resumed his activities as an archaeologist, directing the magazine Portugália. In 1908, faced with financial problems, he returned to Brazil. Contrary to what he had done in Portugal between 1884 and 1908, when he committed wholeheartedly to archaeology, his activity in Brazil was diversified. In 1908, he became a partner in the Technical Office F. P. Ramos de Azevedo, in Companhia Iniciadora Predial, Companhia Cerâmica Vila Prudente and worked for the Arts and crafts School in São Paulo, which he directed between 1928 and 1940.
In 1934, he wrote the book Liceu de Artes e Ofícios de São Paulo: Histórico, Estatutos, Regulamentos, Programas, Diplomas [Arts and Crafts School of São Paulo; History, Statutes, Regulations, Programmes and Diplomas], which is still today an important reference on the history of that institution.
He planned and designed the magazine Portuguesa eand directed it between 1930 and 1937. Edited by the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and by the Portuguese Club, the magazine focused on sciences, the arts, architecture, trade and other activities linked to the Portuguese colony in São Paulo, of which Ricardo Severo was one of its most relevant representatives.
He joined the History and Geographic Institute of São Paulo, in 1911, and participated in the creation of Revista do Brasil. Here, and in other institutions and periodicals, he published a series of articles and conferences on archaeology, republicanism, the Portuguese colony and architecture. The most relevant conferences were those that represented what Severo called the Campanha de Arte Tradicional no Brasil - A Arte Tradicional no Brasil: a Casa e o Templo [Traditional Art Campaign in Brazil – The House and the Temple], in 1914, and A Arte Tradicional no Brasil [Traditional Art in Brazil], in 1916, known in specialized bibliography as a milestone of Neo-Colonialism, a name which the engineer rejected.
There is an endless list of works written by Severo in Brazil, as well as publications in magazines and scientific journals of the time, mostly linked to archaeology.
In 1932, he was honoured by the Portuguese colony to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the uprising in Porto, and in 1969 by the São Paulo Academy of Arts, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. During these events, two books were published: Homenagem a Ricardo Severo and Homenagem a Ricardo Severo: Centenário do Seu Nascimento 1869-1969.
(Text by Ricardo Jorge Costa Diogo, 2008)