Sugar barons had a sweet tooth for deliciously carved cabinets. In the 18th century, when about 70 percent of the world’s gold was mined in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, freshly minted millionaires went for baroque. Working in the mother style of Portuguese baroque, skilled Brazilian artisans, many of African descent, delivered eye-popping furniture that dazzled as brilliantly as gold. "Colonial Brazilian is like colonial American furniture," says Hurrell. "As cabinetmakers grew more confident, they strayed from the pattern books and became freer, less retrained by convention."
Without looking over their shoulders, Brazilian artisans crafted furniture with a new look-pumped-up proportions and more dramatic cuts. A handsome rosewood table sports super sized ball-and-saucer legs and spiraling twist supports that appear to spin in place. A leafy apron looks less like hand-carving and more like natural growth. Pierced brass escutcheons shimmer like diamonds against rich, violet-hued rosewood. "The dramatic play of light is in keeping with baroque style," says Hurrell, who, with wife Julie Sherlock, scouts for antiques in Petropolis, home to Brazil’s 19th-century imperial court.