Wladimir Alves de Souza (1908-1994) was a professor of architectural theory at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who also maintained an architectural practice among Rio's elite. Typically, Alves de Souza would design projects in a variety of styles according to the programmatic needs of the building, from eclectic to neoclassical. His 1957 home for Raymundo de Castro Maya, an industrialist, art patron and collector in the modernist style is, thus, an exception. Perhaps Alves de Souza thought that a fitting setting for art at this time was a modern one.
The building's floors are subtly sited on the hillside in Santa Teresa. Social areas are clustered on the ground floor and give onto the Roberto Burle Marx-landscaped gardens by way of large picture windows and sliding doors. The openings, while characteristic of modern architecture, seem oversized in comparison to some of the 18th and 19th-century art objects inside. The second floor was originally bedrooms.
The building now houses a museum of Castro Maya's art collection, the Museu Chácara do Céu. Since Castro Maya was particularly interested in art related to Brazilian history, one of the most prominent parts of the collection are 19th-century landscape paintings of Rio de Janeiro by artists such as Nicholas Antoine Taunay (1755-1830).
Taunay was one of the main artists involved in the French Artistic Mission, a group of French artists and architects who came to Rio de Janeiro in 1816. At that time, Rio was the capital city of the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves because the royal court of Portugal had been relocated to Rio in 1808 due to the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon Bonaparte. Their mission was to establish the Escola Real de Ciências, Artes e Ofícios (Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Crafts), which would later become the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes (National School of Fine Arts).
The Castro Maya collection also houses a series of watercolors of plants and fruit by Jean-Baptiste Debret, another artist from the French Artistic Mission Group. The watercolors date from 1818 to 1830.
The surrounding neighborhood of Santa Teresa is incredibly charming, with houses built into the hills, winding cobblestone streets, and a profusion of street art.
On the way back down, we stumbled upon the famous Escadaria Selarón. The colorful stairs, covered in mosaics by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, revealed themselves to us as we wound down the steps into neighborhood of Lapa.