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São Paulo State (Brazil)

Last modified: 2022-10-14 by ian macdonald
Keywords: sao paulo | brazil | stars: 4 | star (yellow) | canton (red) | map | stripes: 13 | stripes: 15 |
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[State of São Paulo (Brazil)] 2:3 image by Joseph McMillan, map by Teco Guerreiro
Officially adopted 27 November 1946

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Description of the Flag of São Paulo

As adopted by state law 145 of 3 September 1948, the flag of the State of São Paulo is composed of 13 horizontal black and white stripes. On a red canton, a silhouette map of Brazil appears in blue on a white circle. A small yellow star appears in each corner of the canton. The law provides the following construction specifications:

    Hoist: 13 units
    Fly: 19.5 units
    Canton: 5 by 7.5 units
    Diameter of white circle: 4 units
    Map: fits in imaginary circle of 3.5 unit diameter
    Stars centered at 1 and 6.5 units from the hoist and 1 and 4 units from the upper edge of the flag.
    The size of the stars is not given, but the radius appears on the construction sheet to be about .67 unit.
Based on these specifications, the ratio works out to 2:3.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

Symbolism of the Flag

According to its designer, the writer Júlio Ribeiro, the colors of his proposed republican flag, which later became the state flag, were chosen for five reasons: (1) the sharp contrast of the black and white and the harmony of both colors with red; (2) the existence of colorfast dyes in these colors, making for a durable flag; (3) the flag’s compliance with heraldic rules, especially the law of tinctures; (4) its novelty—it had no ties to any of the country’s imperial symbols; (5) the appropriateness of the colors as representing the synthesis of the European (white), African (black), and indigenous (red) peoples into a single Brazilian nationality. He said the stars on the canton represented the four major stars of the constellation of the Southern Cross (Cruzeiro do Sul) and in fact nicknamed his flag the “black and white banner of the Cross (alvo-negro pendão do Cruzeiro).

On 20 September 1922, however, the São Paulo newspaper Correio Paulistano, referring to “a flag that use and custom hallow as that of São Paulo,” said the flag represents that at any time of night or day (black and white) the people of São Paulo stand ready to shed their blood (red canton) in defense of Brazil (map) at all four cardinal points of the compass (four stars). This explanation is what was written into the law adopting the flag officially in 1948, and is therefore the official statement of the symbolism of the flag—although it is clearly not what the designer intended.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

History of the Paulista Flag

Júlio Ribeiro's Design, 1888

[De Facto First Flag of Sao Paulo] image by Joseph McMillan, map by Jaume Ollé

The flag of the state came from the republican proposal of 16 July 1888 in Júlio Ribeiro's journal O Rebate.. The initial design consisted of fifteen alternate stripes, eight black and seven white, with a red rectangle in the canton, symbolizing the racial fusion of the three races.
Jaume Ollé, 2 July 1996

I recently came across this account of an early (pre-republic) hoisting of this flag. The information is from a leaflet on the history of the city of Sao José do Rio Pardo by Rodolpho José del Guerra, transcribed at It says that in June 1889, members of the "Italian 20th of September Society," a group with substantial republican membership, clashed with monarchists in the streets of Sao José do Rio Pardo, causing troops to be dispatched to restore calm. After two months of relative quiet, the contention resumed in August when a republican leader was attacked by police following a political gathering. The next morning, 11 August 1889, the republicans seized the building housing the municipal assembly and the jail, hoisting the revolutionary flag of Júlio Ribeiro and proclaiming the establishment of a republic, all to the strains of the Marseillaise. The next afternoon, troops arrived from São Paulo and recaptured the city. I'm not sure if this is the first hoisting of this flag "in the cloth," but it's significant that the flag had acquired a sufficient following that republicans in a provincial town would have one to hoist after a relatively spontaneous uprising less than a month after Ribeiro published his design.
Joseph McMillan, 28 October 2003

Although São Paulo did not have an officially sanctioned flag until 1946, the flag designed by Ribeiro in 1888 as his proposed symbol for a republican Brazil was used from a very early period as the de facto state flag. It was hoisted on the Provincial Government Palace on 15 November 1889, the day the republic was proclaimed in Rio de Janeiro, and continued to fly there for some days afterward. In 1914, it was referred to in state publications as the “school flag.” A historian of the São Paulo press wrote in 1915 that “this flag conceived and proposed by Júlio Ribeiro to replace the imperial flag is, with minor modifications required for regional adaptation, the present flag of the State of São Paulo, known and respected by all Brazilians.” It is not clear what adaptation is meant. The prominent football club S.C. Corínthians Paulista adopted it as the central motif of the club badge in 1920.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

The current map of Brazil wasn't in the canton in the original flags. This is, of course, certain: the current map shows Brazil with Acre and other zones that weren't part of Brazil until later. [The map on the image of the 1888 flag above shows the borders as they stood at the time.]
Jaume Ollé, 22 September 2002

The Paulista Flag in the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution

[De Facto Flag of Sao Paulo, 1932]4:7~ image by Joseph McMillan

The São Paulo flag really came into its own—was “consecrated,” as Paulista writers often say—during the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932. This revolt, centered in São Paulo, was a reaction on the part of liberals and the old-line conservatives who had been ousted from national power in 1930 against the increasingly dictatorial regime of President Getúlio Vargas. It was characterized by exceptionally heavy and costly fighting between the national army on one side and volunteer units plus army units who had sided with the rebels on the other. Throughout the struggle, the Paulista flag became the Constitutionalist symbol par excellence. It was prominently displayed in street demonstrations, carried by troops, and appeared alongside the national flag on recruiting posters, memorial tributes, military post cards and envelopes, political pins, and even jewelry. It was worn as a distinguishing patch on the Constitutionalist uniform. Despite the outpouring of reverence for the flag, however, it had still not been officially adopted by the state government by the time Vargas outlawed all state flags in 1937.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

The image of the São Paulo state flag in William Crampton's book Flags is a photograph of a real flag, but that does not mean there cannot be considerable variations in manufacture. In the photograph: (1) the canton is much bigger, covering seven stripes, (2) the map of Brazil is black, (3) the map is much more rounded and not a detailed representation, (4) the stars point to the corners of the canton.
T. F. Mills, 4 June 1997

Apart from the difference in the number of stripes, there are several other variations in the detail of the flag during the period before an official pattern was enacted into law. In particular, the ratio, the size of the canton, the quality of the map, and the position of the stars vary from flag to flag. A 1932-era flag, whose restoration was reported in the 17 May 2002 online edition of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, measures 1.31 x 2.27 meters (about 4:7), and has thirteen stripes and a squarish canton seven stripes deep. The photograph in William Crampton's Flags, mentioned above, has almost exactly this same ratio and the same seven stripe canton, with a crude outline map, one point of each star pointing away from the circle. This would seem to mark it as a pre-1948 item. Old photographs of Paulista flags during the time of the revolution generally appear to show ratios between 3:5 and 1:2. Some have five-stripe and others six-stripe cantons, almost always squarer in shape than the canton in the current flag.
Joseph McMillan, 17 September 2002

At is a black and white picture of the Paulista flag during revolution in 1932. This version's white circle is charged with São Paulo's coat of arms, instead of a map of Brazil. The four stars are pointing upwards. The canton covers 6 stripes (out of 13).
Ivan Sarajcic, 22 July 2007

Official Adoption of the Flag, 1946/48

Shortly after the ban on state flags was lifted in 1946, Interventor Mario Soares—the official appointed by Vargas to rule the state under the 1937 constitution-issued decree-law 16349 of 27 November 1946, “fully restoring our state symbols (flag and coat of arms).” This was the first legal act adopting the Paulista flag. Article 1 of the decree went on to define “the flag, already hallowed by long use, which is thus described: on a field striped of 13 pieces, black [sable] and white [prata], a red [goles] canton with a white [prata] circle depicting the geographic silhouette of Brazil, and accompanied by four gold stars in the corners.”

The status of the historic flag was reaffirmed in the 9 July 1947 state constitution, but a dispute over whether the flag should have 15 stripes or 13 led the constituent assembly drafting the constitution to leave it up to the new state legislature to pass an act on the matter more definitively. The legislature did so the following year, opting for the 13-stripe version, by passing law no. 145 of 3 September 1948, which reaffirmed “the traditional flag consecrated in the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932” and established firm specifications for the design.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

How Many Stripes?

On the nameplate of the newspaper O Rebate, Júlio Ribeiro’s newspaper in which he first described his proposed national flag, there was for many years a drawing of the flag with 15 stripes, 8 black and 7 white, rather than the 13 used on the modern flag. There has been considerable speculation over the years that the “true” flag of São Paulo was tampered with under the influence of the 13-stripe design of the U.S. flag. According to Hilton Federici there is no evidence that this is the case. Federici points out that Ribeiro himself never specified a number of stripes but simply described the field of the flag (and of the coat of arms that went with it) as burelado, or barruly, meaning that it was divided into narrow horizontal stripes. Federici also notes that the evidence for a 15-stripe flag consists solely of drawings in printed matter, including the O Rebate nameplate and military postcards printed for the use of Constitutionalist soldiers in 1932. But there are also prints and other items from 1932 showing flags with 7, 9, 11, and 13 stripes; some of these can be seen at the website of the veterans' organization of that war. Actual flags and photographs, however, all seem to show 13 stripes, and the state legislature ultimately settled on 13 for the official flag.

This decision was apparently influenced strongly by the 1934 poem “Nossa Bandeira (Our Flag),” Guilherme de Almeida’s tribute to the defeated Constitutionalists that later was adopted as the state anthem. The first stanza reads:

Bandeira da minha terra,
bandeira das treze listas:
são treze lanças de guerra
cercando o chão dos Paulistas!

(Flag of my land,
Flag of thirteen stripes:
They are thirteen battle lances
Enclosing the Paulista plain!)

It seems that the poem was so well-known by the time the legislature took up the issue that a flag with any number of stripes other than thirteen had become politically unthinkable.

So why thirteen stripes when the earliest depiction in the original source showed fifteen? Federici speculates that it was simply a matter of aesthetics: fifteen looked too busy. But he concedes that there is no evidence either way.
Joseph McMillan, 16 September 2002

São Paulo state flag - iconic map

At is an apparently popular rendering of the map outline of São Paulo State as a woman's head with a flag for cap or shawl. As depicted, apparently on a vintage P.R.P.  member's diploma (Diploma do Correlegionário), the flag shows more or less like like the image on the page (draped to match the NW outline of the state and peppered with toponyms) with a vertical row of letters more or less along the vertical midline of the flag reading "Tudo por S. Paulo" in sans serif capitals, white on black and red on white, no spaces or dots.

This image seems to be in current "iconic" use as shown on a tattoo at (click to enlarge).
António MARTINS-Tuválkin, 16 July 2010