Graphic Porto – Calendars as propaganda agents

In this wandering exercise, which is always open to surprises along the way, we went through the calendars made by advertising executive António Cruz Caldas (1898-1975) for Empresa Gráfica do Bolhão. They were produced between the 1940s and 1960s, during the Estado Novo. From this set, we make an exception for a drawing with the author’s wishes for 1974, the year of the April Revolution. We will try to peel back the various symbolic layers that cover these images, which function as a hybrid between the playful and the functional, based on advertising techniques.

Looking at the images that come to us via the Cruz Caldas Archive, deposited in the Porto Municipal Historical Archive, the anachronism of the object stands out from the outset. An indispensable presence in any private home, commercial establishment, service or factory, the calendar today is a utility that few remain faithful to. In this field too, technological digitization has left its mark, changing habits. Therefore, traveling through these examples, especially with the chronological and political distance between their production and the present, is an imaginary pleasure. However, it is important to go beyond the picturesque scene.

How can the calendar be classified within the graphic typologies of advertising? Although it’s not a poster, it has the characteristics of one. Both in its form (an image calling for an idea, lettering in line with the message you want to get across) and in its content (a short, precise message that nevertheless stimulates the imagination). We can’t consider it a leaflet either, even though, once again, the calendar steals the page layout from it (it obeys a rigid order, imposed by the months and days of the year) and can have short patches of text that play with the image. Even in its function, the calendar is a mixed object. It lends itself to both the interior, i.e. the private, and the exterior. We can see the symbolism of calendars in a wide variety of places and contexts: in the cab of long-distance trucks, in cafés, hospitals, fabric stores, bakeries, stationery shops and workshops. Used by commerce, industry and services as self-promotion, the calendar was (and still is, despite the decline in its frequency) the annual gift from factories or commercial establishments to their customers of choice. It traveled to other locations and, passing from hand to hand, fulfilled the mission of advertising (selling) a product, widening the range of possible consumers.

The calendars studied were divided into three types: a set with more generic thematic images (peace, Our Lady and the child); calendars made to order for clients, such as the Vidago Melgaço & Pedras Salgadas company; A Confidente e Quinta da Aveleda; and calendars promoting tourism in Portugal. Trying to frame these objects (only the sketches and studies made by Cruz Caldas reached us and not the final result printed at Litografia do Bolhão, except in the of of A Confidente) as pieces inscribed in a cultural, political and aesthetic context, we will explore this symbolic dimension. An artistic component can be seen in any of these calendars, combined with an ideological intention whose roots lie in dictatorial propaganda. Rosas draws attention to the deeply reformist work of the Estado Novo, based on the National Propaganda Secretariat (later the National Information Service), developed by António Ferro, at the service of the nation. The seeds that the Estado Novo sowed in all areas of social, educational, political and cultural life became so naturalized in everyday life that the illusion was created that they were genetic characteristics of a certain way of being Portuguese. This work of persistence relied, to a large extent, on the collaboration of the national artistic milieu, imbued with the modernist current, of which Cruz Caldas is an example, in the area of advertising and illustration. Says Fernando Rosas:

The SPN would thus become the space par excellence for the mise en scéne of the regime’s politics and ideology, its aestheticization and mass dissemination, through an impressive and tentacular agitation apparatus that, in just a few years, acted on the plastic arts (trying to marry aesthetic modernism with the rural and conservative values of the official discourse), it invested heavily in the new vehicles of modern propaganda – cinema, radio, posters -, promoted literary prizes, launched the “people’s theater”, reinvented “popular” ethnography and culture, created official tourism as a result of these, staged “popular festivals”, “historical parades” and the regime’s great mobilizations in general (Rosas, 2001, p. 1043)


In the collection presented here, the marks of a propaganda scheme that is both coercive and subtle are clearly visible. Subtlety can be seen in the homogenization of a discursive tone, which made ideology an unquestionable truth. Coerciveness implicit in the very model of how the market works. Since this moralization strategy encompassed all sectors of society (including the economic sector) and the state was one of its biggest clients, there was little room to escape the dominant discourse, as Rosa points out: “Normally, it was the state apparatus, especially the SNI/SPN, that commissioned the posters, which is why, according to the laws of the market and the regime itself, it was those who commissioned the work who had the last word.” (Rosa, 2005, p. 288).

Peace and promises

In 1943, António Cruz Caldas drew a chubby baby with a suitcase of “illusions, plans, promises, hopes and projects” for the year 1944. Not hiding his satirical streak (Cruz Caldas was also a caricaturist, publishing illustrations in the newspapers of the time), the child appears laughing, holding up a magician’s hat. The china ink illustration was published in a humorous newspaper (the archive description doesn’t indicate which one) and is an obvious allusion to the Second World War period (1939-1945). In another image, in a pencil sketch with wishes for the new year 1974 (the year of the April revolution), the advertiser drew a message of peace, once again personified in a child. Other themes are more innocuous, which is also characteristic of the images that illustrate some types of calendars. Thus, we have a group of birds and a typical image of Our Lady with baby Jesus on her lap, for a Christmas card. These examples confirm the drawing talent of Cruz Caldas, who attended the School of Fine Arts in Porto.

Vidago Melgaço & Pedras Salgadas 

In this sub-set, we highlight the calendars produced by Empresa Gráfica do Bolhão (by António Cruz Caldas) for the Vidago Melgaço & Pedras Salgadas Company. This collection resulted in a series of images of traditional women’s costumes (below, a representation of a woman from Madeira Island), which was in line with the instructions issued by the Estado Novo to promote a type of tourism based on rurality and the authenticity of national ethnography and folklore. Cadavez states that “it is suggested, without any scruples, that this encounter between foreign luxury and national rural humility will serve as an effective propaganda strategy abroad.” (2013, p. 85). Other popular symbols were recovered for the calendars of the Vidago Melgaço & Pedras Salgadas Company, such as the festivals of St. John and St. Anthony, the Barcelos rooster and the popular fairs.

Tourism: between rurality and celebration

The pieces in this sub-set are some of the most expressive examples of Estado Novo propaganda. In these images, we see the promotion of national heritage (a certain idea of the country’s historical grandeur, evident in its castles), the humility of Portuguese houses (a typical house in the Algarve) and the well-being of smiling rural workers, who work hard on the land, but don’t forget the concertina. The calendars advertising Portugal’s tourism promote leisure areas such as Extremadura. In these examples, contrary to the bucolic description of the country’s more rural areas, there are more signs of celebration (dancing couples) and leisure, with figures of clowns and the sun, which is associated with summer. It’s important to note that, alongside these festive activities, the region’s heritage and life are also promoted. Vidago Melgaço & Pedras Salgadas, such as the festivals of St. John and St. Anthony, the Barcelos cockerel and popular fairs.

A Confidente

We have selected the images alluding to A Confidente precisely because they are finalized versions of calendars designed by Empresa Gráfica do Bolhão, by António Cruz Caldas. The property buying and selling company was a strong client of Gráfica do Bolhão, from whom it commissioned outdoor advertising. In these calendars, we see references to popular festivals, namely St. John and St. Anthony.

In conclusion:

The symbolic richness of the calendars produced by António Cruz Caldas for the Empresa Gráfica do Bolhão requires endless excursions, so their interpretation should not be exhausted in the limited space of this essay. Both in their diversity of imagery and in the meanings of their content, we can see in these documents how much Estado Novo propaganda used advertising strategies to create an ideological machine that was powerfully based on habits. To interpret these images is to understand the profound cultural dimension of advertising.

Text: Teresa Lima

Published on: 12/10/2023

Images: Porto Municipal Historical Archive


Cadavez, M. C. P. (2013). For the sake of the nation. Tourist representations in the Estado Novo between 1933 and 1940. University of Lisbon (Portugal).

Rosas, F. (2001). O salazarismo e o homem novo: ensaio sobre o Estado Novo ea questão do totalitarismo. Análise social, 1031-1054.

Rosa, P. (2005). The propaganda poster of the Estado Novo.


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