Félix da Silva Avelar Brotero (1744-1828)

Clique na imagem para a ampliar

Félix da Silva Avelar was the birth name of this botanist, lector of Botany and Agriculture at the University of Coimbra, with a PhD in Medicine by the University of Reims, who was born in Santo Antão do Tojal on 25 November 1744 and died in Belém, Lisbon, on 4 August 1828. He was the son of José da Silva Pereira e Avelar, a doctor educated at the University of Coimbra. At the age of 19, he resorted to the art of singing as a means of survival, due to the death of his grandfather and, after having lost his father at the age of two and his mother having gone mad, he managed to take up the position of singing chaplain in the patriarchy of Lisbon. In the meantime, he had studied Latin, Greek and music and acquired enough knowledge of Canonic Law to enable him to go to Coimbra to take an examination for three consecutive years. He did not complete his education, however, due to the reform of the University in 1772, which prohibited examinations without the respective attendance.

In 1778, he wrote the Gazetas de Lisboa when they reappeared after their suspension since 1762. His philosophical ideals and the friendship that linked him to Francisco Manuel do Nascimento - Filinto Elísio (1734-1819), made him suspect to the Holy Office, forcing him to emigrate together with his friend. On 5 July 1778, they both left for Paris. It was in Paris, following the custom of the intellectuals of the time, that he adopted the name Brotero (lover or mortals). During the 12 years in which he was in Paris, he was an assiduous frequenter of classes and institutes of natural sciences, selling original works and translations to booksellers in an attempt to make a living. He attended the Course in natural history, which Valmont de Bomare opened in Paris in 1781, and the lessons in Botany of Brisson at the Académie de Pharmacie. Having concluded the main studies of Natural History, he obtained his PhD at the School of Medicine of Reims. He then stopped practising medicine in order to dedicate himself exclusively to Botany. He left Paris after having witnessed the initial happenings of the French revolution, arriving in Lisbon in 1790, in the company of Filinto Elísio.

From the reputation he had earned, he was nominated lector of Botany and Agriculture at the University of Coimbra, by Decree of 25 February 1791. In 1788, he had published the Compêndio de Botânica in Paris. His lectures were very successful. He started the first practical Botanical school, reorganising the garden, a task that had been started under the direction of the former lector, Domingos Vandelli (1730-1816). He dedicated himself to botanical research, producing important works such as Flora Lusitanica (1804) and Phytographia Lusitaniae selectior, whose publication, which had started in 1816, ended in 1827. In his search for and collection of specimens, he went through several dangerous situations: he fell three times in the Serra da Estrela, he was attacked by brigands in the Alentejo and he escaped from a murder attempt by shepherds who suspected that Brotero was inspecting the uncultivated lands hoping that they might be donated to him. By Decree of 27 April 1811, he was nominated by Director of the Royal Museum and Botanical Gardens of Ajuda D. João VI; and retired on his jubilee by decree of 16 August 1811.

In 1820, he was elected deputy to the “Cortes Constituintes pela Estremadura”. After having followed the legislative works for a period of four months, he asked for dispensation, which was granted to him.


Compendio de Botanica, ou Noçoens Elementares desta Sciencia, segundo os melhores Escritores Modernos, espostas na Lingua Portugueza, Paris, 1788, 2 vols.; Principios de Agricultura Philosophica, Coimbra, 1793; "An Account of the Fructification of Lycopodium Denticulaum", Transactions of the Linnean Society, 5, 1800; Phytographia stirpium, quae in Lusitania sponte veniunt descriptiones, Lisboa, 1800; "Description of Callicocca Ipecacuanha", Transactions of the Linnean Society, 6, 1802; Flora Lusitanica, seu plantarum, quae in Lusitania vel sponte crescunt vel frequentius coluntur, ex florum praesertim sexubus systematice distributarum, synopsis, Lisboa, 1804; "Reflexões sobre a Agricultura em Portugal, sobre o seu antigo e presente estado; e se por meio de escholas ruraes practicas, ou por outros, ella pode melhorar-se e tornar-se florente", Memorias da Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa, 4, 1815; Phytographia Lusitaniae selectior, seu novarum et aliarum minus cognitarum stirpium, quae in Lusitania sponte veninunt, ejusdemque floram spectant, descriptiones iconibus illustratae, Lisboa, 1816 1º vol, 1827, 2º vol.; "Descriptions of a New Genus of Plants named Araujia, and of a New Species of Passiflora", Transactions os the Linnean Society, 12, 1817; "Noções Historicas das Phocas em geral e particular, com as descripções das que se conservão no Real Museu do Paço de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda", Jornal de Coimbra, 11, 1817; "Descriptions of Two New Species of Erythrina", Transactions of the Linnean Society, 14, 1824; História Natural da Orzella, Lisboa, 1824; Noções Geraes das Dormideiras, Lisboa, 1824; Noções Botanicas das Espécies de Nicociana, Lisboa, 1826; História Natural dos Pinheiros, Larices, e Abetos, Lisboa, 1827.

Main scientific contributions

While he was in Paris, Brotero participated in the botanical sessions of Valmont Bomare (1731-1807), attended the botanical demonstrations of Buisson at the Académie de Pharmacie and struck up a friendship with Vicq d'Azyr (1748-1794), Daubenton (1716-1800) and Antoine de Jussieu (1748-1836). During this period he also got to know Buffon (1707-1788), Condorcet (1743-1794) and Lamarck (1744-1829). In his botanical research, he travelled frequently, namely to the South of England, to Holland and to the banks of the Rhine and the Italian Alps.

His Compendio de Botânica published in 1788 in Paris is the first book of the kind to have been written and published in Portuguese. This work, in which he makes a critical review of the situation at the time in the field of Botany, brought him enormous prestige among his peers. While a lector at the University of Coimbra, where he lectured Botany for approximately 20 years, he won enormous prestige among the students and teachers due to the quality of his classes.

In his work Principios de Agricultura Philosophica, he analyses the structural problems of Portuguese agriculture and its implications in the Economy and defends that Agriculture should be oriented by scientific principles so that each country could supply its population with the products it needs.

In his work Flora Lusitanica he fills in a void that existed in Portugal, since until such time there was no complete inventory of the Portuguese flora. Brotero identified approximately 1800 species, many of them unknown up until then. It should be highlighted that this work was published while still incomplete, due to the pressure of the Portuguese government, which wanted its publication to precede the publication of another already-announced work, Flore Portugaise, of Link and Hoffmansegg. In spite of being incomplete, Flora Lusitanica became a milestone in botanical research in Portugal and of Portuguese science in general. One of the main contributions of this work is the creation of Portuguese botanical nomenclature, inexistent up until then.

After his jubilee by the University of Coimbra, he was nominated Director of the Royal Museum and Botanical Gardens of Ajuda, in Lisbon, where he continued his botanical research.

Displeased by the manner in which Flora Lusitanica was published, he started preparing another work, Phitographia Lusitaniae, in fascicles, where he integrated new species, with illustrations. The first fascicle was published in 1800, but his work was only completed in 1827.

Although his work received recognition in Europe, in Portugal, despite the acknowledgement of the quality of his classes and of his works, he suffered greatly from envy and several types of obstacles. His botanical research suffered greatly with his death, falling into decadence. The botanical gardens of Coimbra and Ajuda were no longer duly cared for, reaching a deplorable state by the mid-nineteenth century.

It is possible to witness the prestige which Brotero had in Europe by the correspondence he kept up with prestigious specialists of the time and by the fact that botanists such as Sprengel, Cavanille, Willdenow, Boissier, Willkomm and De Candolle had given Brotero’s name to plants they identified. He was a member of several societies: Horticultural Society of London; Linnean Society of London; Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa; Société Philomatique; Société d'Histoira Naturalle de Paris; Physioographica Society de Lunden, Sweden; Society of Natural History of Rostock; Academia Cesarea de Bona, and others.

Fernando Reis


Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra


FERNANDES, Abílio, "Relance sobre a vida e a obra de Félix de Avellar Brotero", Anuário da Soc. Broteriana, Coimbra, 1988, 54, 1988.
PALHINHA; Ruy Telles, "Obra e Vida de Felix de Avelar Brotero", sep. das Memorias, (classe de Ciências - Tomo V), Lisboa, Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, 1949.
SILVA, Inocencio da, ARANHA, Brito, Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, T. II, pp. 259-264.
VEIGA, Augusto da Costa, "Felix Avelar Brotero", sep. da Revista da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Coimbra, Coimbra, Tip. Atlântida, 1945, vol. XIV.

© Instituto Camões 2003-2005