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Xylography (Woodcut)

Engraving carved in wood, from which popular illustrations are obtained, widely used from the 19th century on on the covers of booklets of cordel literature.

Xylography (Woodcut)

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Last update: 09/06/2022

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Specialist in Scientific Documentation

Print carved in wood, creating popular illustrations. Widely used from the 19th century on the booklet covers of cordel literature (string literature).


It was also used for printing labels of bottles of cachaça and other products.


Although its origins are little known, the Northeastern popular woodcut is believed to have been brought by Portuguese missionaries who taught the technique to Indigenous people.


The matrices for printing the illustrations are almost always carved in cajazeira wood (tree of the family of Anacardiaceae – Spondias lutea L.) for its soft raw material, which is easy to work with and abundant in Northeast Brazil.


Woodcutters use only a well-sharpened pocketknife or kitchen knife.


Some of the most well-known engravers who contributed to Northeastern xylography are Manoel Serafim, Inocêncio da Costa Nick, Mestre Noza, Zé Caboclo, Enéias Tavares Santos, J. Borges, among others.


Some popular poets have also devoted themselves to preparing wooden matrices to illustrate their own booklets, including: José Martins dos Santos, Manoel Apolinário, Cirilo, Dila, Damásio Paulo Valderedo, and José Costa Leite. The latter used his quicé or caxirenguengue, an old, useless knife and/or without a handle, to carve his woodcuts.


In the 1960s and 1970s, some intellectuals and researchers began publishing a series of albums with prints made by popular Northeastern artists. Xylography was thus considered as art, gaining national and international recognition. Some of these albums are: “20 woodcuts from the Northeast”, organized by Evandro Rabello in 1970 and prefaced by Ariano Suassuna; “Transportation in the sugarcane area: twenty-one woodcuts” by José Costa Leite, published by Instituto do Açúcar e do Álcool in 1972 and prefaced by Mário Souto Maior; “Xylography”, poem by Marcus Accioly recorded by José Costa Leite (1974); and “Popular Xylography”, by Enéias Tavares Santos (1976).



Recife, July 3, 2003.


sources consulted

PONTUAL, Roberto. Notas sobre a xilogravura popular brasileira. In: FOLKCOMUNICAÇÃO. São Paulo: USP, 1971.


TRANSPORTES na zona canavieira: vinte e uma xilogravuras de José Costa Leite. Rio de Janeiro: IAA; Divisão de Administração Serviço de Documentação, 1972.


XILOGRAVURA. Arte e cultura. Disponível em: Acesso em: 14 maio 2002.

how to quote this text

GASPAR, Lúcia. Xylography (Woodcut). In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009.)