The absolutely breath-taking statues of Narcissus the Hunter and Echo the Nymph were originally part of the Chafariz das Marrecas, the Mallard Fountain. Constructed in 1785, the fountain was demolished in 1896 and the statues were removed. Now completely and lovingly restored, they are on display at the Botanical Gardens.
The Wading Birds were exquisitely cast and originally displayed at the Public Prominade, built in 1783. These are considered to be the first public art works in all of Latin America — "public" meaning outside of the authority of the Catholic Church.
You can get a free copy of the O MESTRE NO JARDIM catalogue (the main source for this tour) at the workshop. The catalogue is printed in Portuguese with English translations in the back.
Note: The workshop stands on the grounds outside of the entrance gate to the Botanical Gardens. You do not need to buy a ticket or enter the Gardens to visit these statues, but as long as you are already there, I do recommend you treat yourself to a few hours in what I consider to be one of Rio de Janeiro's best-kept secrets!
All of Our Stories are Simultaneous: History is Complicated (pt. 4 of 4)
What do we do with a mysterious figure like Mestre Valentim? He wasn't a writer, he was a sculptor, so how can we know who he was in his time? He didn't leave us his thoughts about the budding colonial capital city he lived in, worked in, and shaped for us. We do have a few clues, however. Mestre Valentim was a Mason, and he was a member of the largest and most powerful of the Black Brotherhoods. In his lifetime, there were no Masonic Temples in Rio de Janeiro (the first one was founded in 1832, years after Valentim's death in 1813), but most artisans of the building trades were members of the Masons, who likely met informally in their homes. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was a 200 year institution already by Valentim's heydays in Rio—a major port city with constant flow from parts of Europe and Africa. The American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789—these years were bursting with new ideas about freedom, brotherhood and equality, and the news of these events, along with newspapers and political pamphlets and intellectuals were travelling across the ocean. Both the Masons and the Black Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Benedict were known for their strong abolitionist work, with the most famous of the abolitionists being members of one or both of these organizations.
And there, within that context we are left to imagine Valentim Fonseca e Silva, of an enslaved mother and unknown paternity, who may or may not have lived and studied in Europe, who became the top architect in a nascent colonial capital city, sought after by the Viceroy himself, because his work was superior even though he had to humble himself at the professional level of “apprentice” and not as a “master” of his craft. A melanated Black man whose paychecks dripped with the blood of tortured Africans, who watched those same captives execute his grand designs, and yet was, at the same time, a member of the intellectual circles of the city who were thinking, writing and speaking of a radical new order, of global revolutionary movements, and of grand progressive political ideals to design a better world.
All of our stories are simultaeous. History is complicated.