Passeio Público (Public Promenade) is tauted as the first public park in all of Latin America; the location of the first public art in all of Brazil; and as the location of the first cast bronze sculpture in all of South America. Those are some pretty big claims, so let's do a little unpacking.
Firstly, we need to understand the implication of the word "public". At the time (the 1760's) the squares and plazas of the city were in front of churches, part of church property, and therefore could only include religious artworks. The Viceroy wanted to create a new kind of urban space, a leisure space with gardens and art, solely for the purpose of beauty and relaxation.
The park was first opened only to the city's elite residents, later becoming open to the public. Valentim's design was of the French style, popular at the time, though the park was redesiged in the English style in 1864 and has been renovated various times throughout the years until today.
Please carefully read, and reread, parts 6, 7, and 8 of the included interview with Nireu Cavalcanti to comprehend the foundational role of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the emergence of "The State" as a separate power that could challenge "The Church".
Finally, while casting bronze is an ancient artform, certainly done by the indigenous peoples in various parts of the pre-Columbian Americas, Valentim's wading birds are considered to be the first cast bronze statues in Brazil of the (at the time) more modern casting technique.
Interview with Nireu Cavalcanti (pt. 7 of 8)
What role did the park have in the on-going problem of sanitation in the city?
Public Promenade park stands today on what used to be a lagoon. As with all construction proposals, filling in lagoons, ponds and streams was encouraged, as these bodies of standing water were considered to be responsible poor health of the city.
The fill-ins were done with debris and the dismantling of hillsides. With the construction of the Santa Teresa Convent, Lapa Hill was brought down and this land served to finish filling in the lagoon.
With the arrival of the Viceroy Dom Luis de Vasconcelos and his dissatisfaction with the facilitis of the Imperial Palace, he moved his residence to Rua do Passeio (Promenade Street) and realized the potential of the land. Mestre Valentim, who at this time already had an excellent reputation for his carving, was sought by the Viceroy for the park project. Dom Luis de Vasconcelos was one of the best governors Rio ever had.