Mestre Valentim

Sculptor, architect, urban planner


Valentim da Fonseca e Silva was born in the state of Mina Gerais to a Portugese diamond contractor father and an enslaved African mother. There are some historical debates as to whether his mother was African or Afro-Brazilian, enslaved or free, and to the exact nature his parents’ "relationship". All of this is irrelevant to me, as we don't have proper words to describe the chasm of power between white males (boys and men) and Black females (girls and women) during the colonial period known as the Atlantic Moment. The concepts of bodily integrity, sexual consent, sexual assault and rape that we understand today did not exist, legally or socially, at that time.

What happened to the children of these "reproductive episodes" was entirely up to the white father. It was his perogative to acknowledge or deny his children. Rising rates of abandoned "mixed race" children created unrest for the European people and European power that sought to organize colonial society. This, however, is a story of a Black boy whose white father accepted him.

The boy's father took him back to Portugual at the age of 3 to see to his education. Valentim returned to Rio de Janeiro at the age of 25 and established himself as a sculptor, wood carver, architect and urban planner. He designed Passeio Publico, the first public park in Latin America. He designed and sculpted many of the city's public fountains, and his woodwork can be found in the finest of Rio's churches, including Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo, Igreja de Santa Cruz dos Militares, and the famed Mosteiro de São Bento. Wherever you encounter obelisks or pyramids topped with a filigree globe and a tiny crown while walking around in Rio de Janeiro, you are likely to be looking at the work of Mestre Valentim! You can also find his earliest cast bronze works in the memorial at the Botanical Gardens.

Though we honor him with his proper title today, in his lifetime--because of his race--he was never called "Mestre" (Master). Mestre Valentim died in 1813 and is buried at