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WALMOR CORRÊA IN THE HISTORY OF ART-SCIENCE IMAGERY

Francisco Marshall

At the dawning of mankind, when primates were listening to Richard Strauss, the investigation and expression of anatomy had already become subject matter for art, and it has been ever since; since forever and forever, one might say. Walmor Corrêa in our own times provides the strongest expression of this art lineage, which is nothing but the most powerful cultural memory of mankind ever depicted, from the Palaeolithic period and into the future; its genealogy can be seen especially in the traditions of Mediterranean art, in the Renaissance and modern schools of science. It is a lineage that relates perception, analysis, the science of materials and form, anatomy, speculation, imagination and the capacity to interpret and reveal culture in the form of the body, in the image of our self, the creatures we live with, and our world. The terms of this particular semantic equation involve knowledge, art, culture, science, anatomy and body.

 

In illo tempore

The discovery of Chauvet Cave at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc in the Ardèche River valley in the south of France in 1994 revealed an amazing virtuosity of anatomical representations of bison, horses, mammoths and ten other Palaeolithic species. Today this is the oldest evidence of art, dating back around 32,000 years, or about 1,300 generations old. The Chauvet images also reveal the first signature, the handprint, the history of the body in movement, recorded in colour in two different parts of the cave. We see bodies, we see the sight of bodies and we see the virtuosity of the artists who are learning and teaching the mystery of producing images.

Lascaux (France) and Altamira (Spain) and other Palaeolithic sites reveal further mysteries of imagery and anatomy, and the depicted human body. We do not have all the links in the chain, but it seems reasonable to suppose that this knowledge had been transmitted for many centuries, even before Chauvet, in different traditions by shaman artists, with the power of the image, secrets, arts and sciences, bodies and movement in complex narratives, languages experienced in the minds of these beings, formed on the rocks. The name Homo sapiens sapiens well befits this stone-age artist, as it does us. With our equipment they produced the sensory mirrors with which they saw each other, we see them and we see ourselves. In illo tempore… “in that time”, the revered term of the historian of religions Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) to refer to the original moment when myths began. Recreation of the myth, as in the work of Walmor Corrêa, is a return to that original creation, now updated, from the moment when the artist creates the image of the body.

 

Beginnings

The surprises and mysteries of the Palaeolithic period contain interesting trails of this anatomical imagery, parts that are both distant from and central to the puzzles of art and knowledge. The codes become closer and certainly genealogical after the domestication of seeds on the Caucasus mountains around 10,000 years ago. At Çatalhüyük in Anatolia, in about 6,000 B.C., the city becomes image, and the bodies depict dancing, musical figures wrapped in animal skins.

In the Cyclades, which was populated during Neolithic prosperity, schools of art-anatomy flourished from the fifth millennium B.C., and their recovery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries established them as part of the contemporary imagination. Cycladic art contains a keen sense of structure; the body is divided into proportional parts, displaying an analytical formal code that was transferred through workshops and in physical description.

The height of the Cycladic school of art-anatomy occurred in the palaces of Crete, particularly at Knossos. Here the bodies are malleable, with strong, elastic articulations that stretch and are sometimes transformed in the passage between historical and sacred, in the compulsive power of highly choreographic rituals, in which one can almost hear the image and its frenetic dances. This is the peak of plastic physicality in the Mediterranean Bronze age. The bodies in these images, like those in the art of Walmor Corrêa, are transformed into hybrids of history and the imagination.

 

Modernity

With the fall of Mycenae in the mid-12th century B.C., the rich visual culture of the Mediterranean Bronze age – cities, paintings, sculpture and jewellery – disappeared. The historian Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) called it the greatest cultural crisis of the Mediterranean. The classical philologist Bruno Snell (1896-1986) recalled (1992) that at the time of Homer there was no accurate vocabulary to describe the unity of the body, but instead a perception of its parts and connections. Which is the source of the famous myth of “Achilles’ heel”, and also the plasticity of archaic art, in which scrawled schematic bodies are simplified and physical personality is suggested by the connection of parts, feet, shin, thighs, torso, arm (forearm), neck and head, like dolls.

Around four centuries after the fall of Mycenae, the reinvention of images in Greece followed eastern models, particularly Egyptian ones. This passage led to a formal, rigid art, with the appearance of a code transmitted and followed. It is an archaic art of stable, timeless, superhuman, perennial bodies. The passage of these bodies of kouroi and kourai (young men and women) into modernity occurs at the same time as the transition of Athens into an isonomic regime, based on the proportionality of social parts and an unprecedented sense of freedom and autonomy. This corresponded with the production of a new canon, described in a book of the same name, Kanon, by the genius of anatomical modernity, Polycleitus, in around 460 B.C.. Together with two other Athenian visual artists from the 5th century B.C., Phidias and Mydon, Polycleitus was a master of this great cultural transformation; he divided the body into proportions of 7 heads and described the system of tension and rest known in the Renaissance as contrapposto, which produced grace, lightness and most of all, mobility and freedom in space. This science soon resulted in wonders such as Myron’s Discus Thrower, in a startling contrast with the rigid art of two generations before.

With the canon of Polycleitus, the modern body is established and disseminated as a method, the model of physical appearance expressed in thousands of versions from Greece to the present, in the most powerful and extensive phenomenon of the dissemination of an artistic code in the history of mankind. The vehicle? Bodies, made from bronze, stone and paint, on parchment, papyrus, paper and any other material. Representation of the body since that time acquired autonomy, movement and naturalism; post-classical art can easily be considered as variations on the canon of Polycleitus. Moreover, it should be remembered that we are talking about a contemporary of Hippocrates of Cos, and also Hippodamus of Miletus, the planner who considered proportion and symmetry in a healthy rectangular city refreshed by wind and sunshine. The art of Polycleitus is also a symptom of the new anthropology, based on freedom and classical humanism, but also of an advanced science of the body and its position in the fabric of the city. We are therefore talking about an aesthetic and political science, revealed in the portrayal of a person that will henceforth be a protagonist, or at least pursued as an ideal standard: the isonomic human being.

 

Traditio

This body of Polycleitus advanced across centuries, latitudes and longitudes. The peak of this cultural propagation occurred during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries, when rediscovery of the classical figure became a key feature of the ontological, philosophical, technological, curricular and artistic rearrangement that changed the fate of Europe, spreading with epidemic global effects from the epicentre of Florence. The Renaissance body meant a resurgence of the classical, autonomous and isonomic body against the zodiacal body or the domesticated body and the prudish body, all typical of mediaeval Christianity. With the powers and imagination of paganism, the human body is released and recaptures movement and life, as well as its innate and beautiful erotic expression, in the Aphrodisiac and Dionysian arts that are the bold part of this aesthetic context, in the hands of the greatest geniuses of art, Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) and Tiziano Veccelio (1485-1576), and many of their contemporaries.

This Renaissance setting provides the closest and most valuable ancestor for understanding the work of Walmor Corrêa and its position in this lineage of using anatomy as language and expression of art, science and imagination: Leonardo da Vinci, the genius who used drawing to carry out an extensive analysis of the human form. Leonardo’s drawings, with their astonishing originality and scientific rigour, produced the anti-platonic language and scientific art of modernity, in which graphic representation becomes the instrument for analysis and teaching of knowledge about the body. Anti-platonic, since in book X of the Republic (Politéia, the constitution of his ideal city, monarchy), Plato attacked figurative (mimetic) art, which he claimed was a “copy of a copy” three stages removed from reality, as charlatanism that would pervert the city by fooling the young and which should therefore be banned in favour of a pure, Mondrian-style geometric art in an ordered city. Here we can note the unintended irony in Raphaello Sanzio’s homage to the great master Leonardo, at the centre of the panel of “Knowledge of causes” (known as The School of Athens in the Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican). Leonardo’s stance towards art is not Plato’s however, but its antidote: analytical, mimetic drawing used to investigate the intimacy of our bodies, the understanding of causes, the functioning of each and every part and the search for solutions.

 

Art-science

In his Tratatto della pittura, Leonardo begins by discussing the relationship between art and science, and defends the scientific level of painting, demonstrated by geometry. Moreover, he ostensibly argues that the art (technique) of painting should be founded on science, or “[…] with strict knowledge of living forms and intellectual understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles” (Capra, 2007, 35). For Leonardo this would also guarantee the timeless universality of art, since living forms are stable and permanent and can be recognised from all distances and ages. Art and science were for Leonardo complemented by fantasy, or by the capacity for imagining based on knowledge of nature acquired through intellectual effort and investigation. As a result of these ideas, his anatomical drawings bring together the greatest talent of an artist, mastery of his art and technique, with the tireless curiosity of a scientist, dedicated to dissecting the world analytically, and with the necessary fantasy for achieving an intellectual understanding of living forms examined with visual rigour. In Leonardo’s anatomical drawings, therefore, the study of physical morphology leads to scientific art, and results in sensitive knowledge about the form and functions of our bodies. The earlier arts, Palaeolithic, Cycladic or classical, also have relations with the sciences of the body of their own times, in the cultural way in which they interpret historical ontologies and also by sharing the principles of analysis of nature and the functioning of the body, the historical forms of medical science.

Although we know of Leonardo’s contact with corpses, obtained in conditions difficult for dissection, observation and recording, his anatomical drawings are not mere observational depiction, despite conveying organic facts with great verisimilitude. They are also imaginations and interpretations of the bodies, of their inner workings, in the field of his physiological hypotheses and the medical tradition that he knew, reflecting and challenging the ideas of the Roman physician Galeno (c. 131–201/216 A.D.). In other words, the expression of drawing serves henceforth as a powerful and persuasive language for simulating empirical perfection and correction in anatomical description, but we know that the cultural conceptions and imaginings of Leonardo himself play a large part in the direction of drawing and reveal, as this illustration shows, how much he sought to depict his theory about the relationship of mind and body in the phenomenon of the erection. After Leonardo, art-science is a complex expression of culture, with style, cognitive identity and its own epistemological properties, in which mimetic drawing integrates naturalistic verisimilitude or truth, analytic rigour, intellectual speculation and all the scientific and cultural paradigms that govern the formulation of ideas about the body, one of the most elaborate sets of concepts in the whole history of culture. This is the territory occupied by Walmor Correa, his viewers and the frontiers of culture.

 

Art and science, modern tradition

After Leonardo we have a lineage of production in which drawing and print not only become specialist forms of analysis and the teaching of sciences, but also define a tradition with historical topics and languages, including schools, stylistic developments and paradigm advances. The first and most important example of this tradition is the Belgian physician and anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), author of the treatise De humani corporis fabrica (1543), in which, after public sessions of didactic dissection of corpses in Padua, the young Belgian published his own post-Leonardo anatomical history, using the best techniques of investigation and illustration of his times. The interesting feature of this treatise is that the representations of bodies follow classical patterns of form, adopting postures and gestures from the iconological tradition of the canon of Polycleitus, translated in Renaissance art as contapposto; this stylistic trait will be restated and confirmed throughout the whole tradition of scientific art after Vesalius. The illustrations to Vesalius came from an artist from the studio of Tiziano Vecellio, Jan Steven van Calcar (mentioned by Vasari as Giovanni da Calcar, 1499–1546). The power of synthesis and drama of these figures make them one of the best catalogues of expression-laden forms (pathosformeln) identified by Aby Warburg (1866–1929) as conveyors of cultural memory through the centuries and in different contexts. The reduction of anatomical essence intensified the power of expression, and this increased the didactic power of the work, impressing even the Hapsburg monarch Charles V (1500–1558), to whom Vesalius dedicated and presented a hand-made edition and from whom he received substantial reward.

Without achieving Vesalius’s success, since he died in the dungeon of one of his creditors, Charles Estienne (1504–1564) also employed the same language and methodologies, and the culture of the times carried forward exponents of anatomical research through the means of production and dissemination of images, printmakers connected to the art of the book. For Charles Estienne, this was the print shop of his bother Robert Estienne (1503–1559), royal printer in Paris until 1550, when he left for Geneva to escape Catholic religious persecution. The prints in De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres (On the dissection of human bodies into parts, in three books, 1545), display a similar repertoire of dramatic gestures and bodies (pathosformeln) as those of the Belgian artist, yet with less scientific innovation. They offer valuable evidence of this lineage of anatomical education and analysis since Leonardo, with classical art and modern experimentation, and the power of disseminating this modern language in highly successful books.

 

The phenomenology of the image in scientific art

Scientific-art illustration, as represented by Leonardo, Vesalius, Estienne and Walmor Corrêa, produces a phenomenology of the image itself, in scientific expression that takes the persuasive power of the image to a third level, in which the power of art brings a certain degree of truth to the image, an effect of veracity. Iconism: the mental production of an image. In the iconism of scientific art, the viewer is led to accept the degree of scientific truth conveyed by the descriptive and analytical nature of the image. The ideal viewer of this image, that is to say the viewer with the greatest capacity of observation (reading), therefore has to submit the image to a new scientific experiment, verifying the level of empirical and hermeneutic truth and occasionally criticising or providing historical relativity to the knowledge being presented. However, the implied viewer, that is to say the one determined by the nature of the image, and the intended viewer, the one imagined by the artist, can form a scientific image based on the scientific-art image, attributing truth to the knowledge portrayed in the image and understood through it; in other words, the iconism of scientific art projects a mental setting of scientificity on the viewer without the viewer realising that, in viewing, he is being exposed to an effect of attraction and persuasion from the realm of art. Here is where the didactic and persuasive power of the scientific-art image lies, simultaneously connecting imagination, verisimilitude and belief in truth. The problem of truth can easily be discarded in this process, since the stronger aesthetic effect is the persuasion of scientific art. So it is not surprising that some readers immediately believe in the scientific-art image, since its rhetoric presupposes precisely that it be seen in that light.

Walmor Corrêa’s scientific-art iconism therefore introduces enigmas that cause a form of mental activity that is different from one stimulated by mere aesthetic pleasure, as in a landscape by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) or Claude Monet (1840-1926), or by the intelligence of conceptual art, such Fountain, 1917, by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) or the Portrait of Iris Clerc, 1961, by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008); in scientific art the image takes its place in the pages of an encyclopaedia, acting as a visual definition of a phenomenon described by art with the veracity of science. However, artist and viewers have to accept that the discourse of science also consists of incomplete truths, out-dated truths and paradigms and cultural imaginings presented as truths, in other words everything except the empiricist or metaphysical concepts of truth, with which the naïve viewer addresses the scientific image. The educated viewer will therefore see in Walmor Corrêa’s art the same level of synthesis between art, science and fantasy that Leonardo achieved, with the particular feature in this case of also using the technique of scientific art to investigate the conditions of myth and modern and contemporary scientific culture.

 

Skeins of thread

Between Leonardo and Vesalius, in the 15th and 16th centuries, and Walmor Corrêa in the 21st century, there is a genealogy of authors who used the scientific-art image as a platform for analysis, speculation and the didactics of science. This lineage includes the philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), in the engraving that attempts to understand the phenomena of mental perception of pain and heat, but more particularly the learned genius Athanasius Kircher (1601–1680) and his hermeneutic library accompanied by scientific collections in the Collegio Romano. Athanasius Kircher’s work covers volcanology and various fields of geology, deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, sinology, mathematics and music, published in various books between 1631 and 1680, which were gathered together in the 1680 publication, Physiologia Kircheriana. In his Musurgia universalis (1650), concerned with cosmic harmony, Kircher studies all the complexity of the phenomenon of music, including notation of birdsong, analysis and invention of musical instruments and physiological examination of the auditory and phonic mechanisms, comparing humans with animals. The same work also refers back to classical myth and hermetic physicality (i.e. from the mediaeval and Renaissance tradition of Hermes Trismegistus), in a print of Orpheus taming the three-headed dog Cerberus at the gates of Hades, and the Homo zodiacus, expressing harmony between the micro and macro universe, in which sound and music have a prophylactic effect in tune with the functions of various organs in the human physiology.

Note that Athanasius Kircher was a Jesuit in Rome; it is easy to read his image of Orpheus as an allegory of music, the subject of the book, but the illustration of a zodiacal body with hermetic vocabulary is a very strong document, not just because hermeticism was considered heresy and in those days serious followers of it were burnt at the stake, but particularly as evidence of the power of historical ontologies in the production of images, especially of the human body. It is worth remembering that one of the best documents of art-memory of the body, the image that dominates the page of verso 14 of the incunabulum Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1411-16), by the Limbourg bothers (1385-1416), is the most beautiful and complete Homo zodiacus, depicting the theory of the four humours (choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic) organised in the same sequence as the states of matter (hot, cold, wet, dry), the four cardinal points, correlated with the twelve months and their correspondence with the order of the body. The inscriptions in each of the four corners serve to clarify the arrangements; clockwise from top left: 1) Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are hot and dry, choleric, masculine, eastern; 2) Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn are cold and dry, melancholic, feminine, and western; 3) Gemini, Aquarius and Libra are wet, sanguine, masculine and southern, and 4) Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are cold and wet, sanguine, masculine and northern. Both the art and science (historical) in this image allow us to think of a centuries-old order of artistic knowledge that considers the body with all possible imagination and culture, and produces this knowledge in icons of powerful concision, intelligence and instruction, through which we can understand the cosmos and culture in which we are represented. And Walmor Corrêa is of that same order.

The 17th century was rich in imagery of anatomy, the fruit of the prestige of this spectacular science, as can be seen in the Anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp (1632), and later in the Anatomy lesson of Dr. Joan Deyman (1656, with impressive foreshortening), both by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669). Beside Dr. Tulp, at the feet of the corpse being dissected, is a book, possibly Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, (1543). The hand and arm under analysis are notable in their accurate depiction of muscles and tendons: art and science in a masterpiece by Rembrandt, then aged 26. This is the context in which the Belgian Adrianus Spiegel’s (1578–1625) De formato foetu liber singularis (On the formation of the foetus in a unique book in 1626) was published posthumously in Padua with illustrations by Odoardo Fialetti (1573–1638), another follower of the school of Tiziano Vecellio. The 10 engravings of gestation in this book present a beautiful precursor to Walmor Corrêa’s physiological mythography: the formation of the foetus and the representation of the female belly imagine a hybrid form between human and vegetable; the uterus appears as a leafy plant, and the body of the Indian woman that serves as a model is set amidst vegetation. The work of an anatomist and botanist represents an amazing physiological thesis about the vegetable nature of uterine processes, in a beautiful synthesis of myth, culture, art and science.

In Bernardino Genga’s (1620–1690), Anatomia chirurgica, cioè istoria anatomica dell’ ossa emuscoli del corpo umano (Anatomical surgery, or the historical anatomy of the bones and muscles of the human body, 1672) the connection between anatomical science and art is explained; the (translated) text of the frontispiece reads: “Anatomy for use and intelligence of drawing, researched not just on the bones and muscles of the human body, but also demonstrated on the most distinguished ancient statues of Rome, depicted in many pictures with all the figures from various sides and views. For study of painting and sculpture at the Royal Academy of France, under the direction of Carlo Errard, director in Rome. Prepared from corpses by Doctor Bernardino Genga, royal anatomist, with notes and index by Lord Canon Giovanni Maria Lancisi, private physician to His Excellency Pope Innocent XI. A highly useful work for painters and sculptors and any other scholar of the noble Art of Drawing. […] September 15, 1691”. At the height of this anatomical scientific art, the necrologist physician directs himself towards artists, and offers them anatomical insight rooted in classical imagery. This is the moment when the formula is consolidated, lending the stamp of Polycleitus’s contrapposto and classical gestures and bodies to anatomy books, conveying poetic drama and sometimes toying with the morbid themes of classical art, particularly the theme of vanitas, or ambition in the face of the decrepitude of the world. This tradition lasted into the 19th century and made anatomy books into analytical versions of classical physicality.

After the 17th century, notable advances were made in the study of anatomy and its scientific-art expression. A similar evolution of scientific art occurred in the geosciences, in chemistry, physics and astronomy, but the clearest and most expressive lineage is the one linked to the human body. A brief genealogy has to include the posthumous and considerably delayed publication of Bartholomeus Eustachius’s (1510/4–1574) work Tabulae Anatomicae (Anatomical Tables), completed in 1552 but then banned; recovered in 1714 by the physiologist Giovanni Maria Lancisi (1654–1720), who was given Eustachius’s abandoned blocks by Clemente IX (1649–[1700]1721), it was published in Rome (1714), and ran to several editions in the 18th century (Amsterdam, 1722; Leiden, 1744; Rome, 1744 and 1783; Bonn, 1790). The synthesis of the culture of anatomy of that period appears in the Cyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers (London, 1728). Two works stand out from the 19th century, one of which, the Handbuch der Anatomie des Menschen (Manual of human anatomy, Leipzig, 1841) by Carl Ernest Bock (1809-1874), displays extraordinary artistic quality; the notion of totality is lost in Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical (London, 1858) by Henry Gray (1827-1861), with the body presented dismembered into small parts, and science seeming to have lost art and its domain of imagination in favour of narrative description. The visual reference book is Bock’s manual, full of learned detail.

 

New Renaissancists

In the 20th and 21st centuries this inventory reencounters the height of anatomical scientific art in the work of two geniuses inspirationally associated with the luminaries of the Italian Renaissance; firstly the so-called “Michelangelo of medicine”, the amazing Frank Netter (1906–1991), a dedicated artist who devoted himself to medicine and learned through drawing. His masterpiece, the Atlas of Human Anatomy, was published in 1989 after a long and prolific career as an illustrator of medical and pharmaceutical works. In 1988, already celebrated, the New York Times commemorated his 82nd birthday by stating that he “[…probably contributed more to medical education than most of the world’s anatomy professors taken together.” (NYT, 26/04/1988, article by Harold M. Schmeck Jr.). Asked whether he regretted having abandoned surgical practice for illustration, Netter said, “My field covers everything. I have to be a specialist in each specialism; I have to be able to talk with all doctors in their own terms. I probably study more than anyone else in the world” (netterimages.com, 2005). Plato would have to recognise Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Netter and Walmor Corrêa before attacking painters as charlatans for pretending that the painting of medical acts involves medical science. It is quite the opposite, Plato. With a great deal of study, research and genuine art, these scientists produced profound, innovative and useful knowledge.

And so we come to the moment of positioning the art of Walmor Corrêa at the end of this lineage, the tradition of the oldest and most vigorous art in the history of mankind, anatomical scientific art, bringing together art, communicative power, technique, culture, science and myth, from Chauvet to the 21st century and beyond. The discovery of the anatomy of mythical Brazilian creatures, in a language that would make even Leonardo envious, reconstructs the same equation that guided the genius of Tuscany, but now with awareness of art’s intrinsic mythopoetical function, even of the art of producing scientific images. In Walmor Corrêa’s version, the interpretation of the nature of bodies pursued by Leonardo encompasses the myths and imagery produced in a second state of nature, the fantastic creatures imagined by peoples and projected in cultural memories embedded in the landscape and identity of cultures, endowed with a physicality touched by the imagination of countless communities in hundreds of oral and literary narratives. To give the Capelobo, the Curupira, the Ipupiara and the Ondina their own anatomical description in an Atlas of Anatomy means taking them into that cognitive sphere in which the precision and veracity of scientific expression allow the viewer’s eye and mind to encounter the phenomenology of anatomical scientific art in the territory of didactic taxonomy. Besides curiosity about the intimate anatomy of these mythical creatures, this terrain also raises fundamental questions about the relationships between art and science, about the role of art in scientific analysis and teaching and about the fictional component within scientific discourse, as part of its cultural and narrative condition. Even more interesting are the hybrid forms, such as the fusion of a sparrow with the brain of a rat, a highly credible mutant in an age of genetic manipulation. In these formal experiments produced with strict anatomical perfection and aesthetic power, we encounter a border zone between reality, perception, imagination, science, culture, truth, verisimilitude, fiction, persuasion, memory and art in the most sophisticated and up-to-date version of the sum of all the artistic memory of mankind. We encounter the talent, enchantment and art of Walmor Corrêa.