This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
They Died in Rome: Preservation of an Active, Historic Cemetery for Foreigners by Nicholas Stanley-Price
Jason: I’d really like to thank also, both the people who welcomed us. Francis Miller for helping me pull together the hands-on. The hotel, because we did cancel within two days’ notice last time and they didn’t stick me with the bill. Yay! They could have easily done, so we really want to thank the hotel for being as nice as they’ve been to us, the second time around.
Without further ado, we’ll get started. Our first talk is Nicholas Stanley-Price. Nicholas Stanley-Price is a member of the advisory committee of the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome and edits its Friends’ Newsletter. We have both the newsletter and a review copy of his new book out on the table. One of the tables outside. He has recently published the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. Its history, its people and its survival for 300 years. He’s the former director general of ICCROM. Welcome again.
Nicholas: Good morning everybody. Thank you Jason for the introduction. It gives me great pleasure to try and talk about this different cemetery in Rome, in Italy. Why does Rome have a cemetery for non-Catholics, for foreigners? Basically, if I remind you of the status of Rome in the 18th, 19th century, it was part of the Papal States, administered by the Vatican, by the Holy See. Anybody who was outside the Catholic church was not entitled to be buried in consecrated ground, in Catholic consecrated ground, i.e., within the churches in the city or in any church cemetery adjacent to a church.
Anybody outside the Catholic church was not allowed to be buried there. What happened to them? There was an area outside the walls to the north of the city where people outside the church such as suicides and prostitutes and criminals were buried. That’s where Protestants would normally be buried too, because they were outside the church and they were considered heretics.
During the 18th, 19th century, there were increasing numbers of Protestants coming to Rome as part of the grand tour, and others who came for other reasons connected with the exiled Stewart court of Britain. Many of whose members were Protestant, not Catholic.
During the 18th century, they developed a place for Protestants to be buried with, as we now know, the permission of the Pope, right from the start. That was very uncertain for a long time and really, it’s only research of the last two or three years which has confirmed that it did have the permission of the Pope from the start.
One of the best known of these Protestants who died in Rome, and needed somewhere to be buried was the romantic poet, John Keats. On the left, you see the house on the Piazza Di Spagna, on the Spanish Steps and the actual room, which is now part of the Keats-Shelley museum, where he died. Where he’d been looked after for many months by Joseph Severn, the painter. Keats knew how close he was to death, because he had studied medicine and he asked Severn to go down and visit the Protestant Cemetery as it was called to tell him what it was like because he knew he was going to end up there pretty soon.
Severn came back saying, “It’s the most beautiful place with grassy lawns covered with daisies and violets,” which were Keats’ favorite flower. Keats said he could almost feel the flowers growing over him. Keats died in February 1821 and there’s his grave in the Protestant Cemetery. Joseph Severn unfortunately had another task.
The next year, when the other fellow romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was drowned off the coast north of Rome. Shelley, after he had died, was painted by Joseph Severn composing his poem in the bath of Carcalla. There is his grave on the right. The graves of the two romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, are the most visited graves, at least for all poetry lovers and most Anglophones who visit the cemetery these days.
The term which we preferred to call it now is the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome because it’s not exclusively for Protestants and hasn’t been for a long, long time.
On the right, you can see a view taken in about 1900 showing the extent of the cemetery. There’s the chapel which I’ll talk about later, built in 1898. Then, the large area of cypress trees, often associated with cemeteries. At the other end, its terminals is marked by the pyramid. I’ll explain the pyramid in a moment.
I had stressed that it is still an active cemetery for those who qualify. How do you qualify? You have to be non-Catholic, non-Italian, resident in Italy. Those who meet those three criteria can be buried there today. I should also add that, many of the people buried there today are descendants of those who qualified and of course, through into marriage with Italians and so on. In fact, there are quite a lot of people buried in the cemetery who are Italian and Catholic.
Just for those of you who know Rome, just to show where it is and those of you who don’t know Rome, let me know when you’re coming. It is right inside the ancient wall, the Aurelian Wall, 3rd century AD. There is the pyramid I just mentioned. It’s inside the ancient walls. I stressed it’s inside the walls because I often read that the cemetery was created outside the wall. It’s not. Right on the southern fringe of Rome. Here’s the main station, here’s the colosseum. Piazza Navona, the Vatican, top left just to give you an idea of where it is. The first recorded burial is in 1716 and the first stone monument was, or the surviving stone monument dates from 1765 which was the grave of George Werpup.
George Werpup was a young German on the grand tour and you may be surprised if I tell you how he died. He died in a road accident, falling out of his carriage as it toppled over as they were leaving Rome. Unfortunately, he and his valet were killed. He is the first burial to have a stone monument erected to him, and he is in the old cemetery which is in the shadow of the pyramid. Let’s see the shadow of the pyramid. It’s just on the right.
The pyramid is the oldest monument in the area. The pyramid dates from about 18 BC. It’s an ancient Roman monument, and appropriately enough, it is a tomb. It’s the tomb of a man we know very little about called Gaius Cestius. We really only know about him from inscriptions on the pyramid. He left instructions that when he died, he wished to be buried in a monument built in the form of a pyramid, and that he was.
That dominates the old cemetery. Where it all started, including that tomb we just saw of 1765. On the right, you see the so-called, new cemetery, began in 1822. You see the clear difference between the two. The old one looks a bit more like a church yard that were used to here, or in England. Whereas, the view on the right shows much denser layout of tombs in the new cemetery.
Why the big difference? Because in 1822, the Pope said, “No more burials in the old cemetery. I’ll give you a new piece of land,” almost adjoining to the right. I’ll show you a map in a moment. The reason, the tombs that the Protestants were erecting and the trees that they were planting were obscuring the view of the pyramid. The pyramid was always seen as a very important even though it’s Pagan, a very important monument to all Romans, and there had to be public access, public land to get there. The protestants were diminishing the view of the pyramid. For that reason, that the Pope said, “No more burials in the old cemetery.”
To give you an idea of the layout. You see the contrast again between the old cemetery here in front of the pyramid, relatively few graves. About 70 graves in the old part, and then the very dense layout of the new cemetery which is still the active part nowadays, and laid out in the form that you see.
We’re looking from the north in this plan of the 80’s and the next plan is going to be seen from the other side from the south. Again, we have the pyramid here and the old part. This is just to explain how this cemetery developed over the years. This is the so-called, new cemetery and the plot of land which the Pope assigned them in 1822, which started to be used then. Then, there was an extension as the space was used up in 1956, which covers this bit. Then, the final extension in 1894, including the erection of a chapel which I mentioned before.
Since 1894, there had been no extensions. There was no space in which it could extend. All burial activities since 1894 has been taking place in this area. Hence, the very dense accumulation and layout of the cemetery that you have seen. You see one or two other points like Keats’ grave and Shelley’s grave just to give you an idea of where they are.
Now I stress, this is a private cemetery. We’re talking a bit about the management and the status of the cemetery, which is private, but of course, subject to all regulations, both of the city and of the government of Italy. National and city regulations. About 2,500 tombs, existing in about 18,000 square meters, which I think is about four and a half acres, tell me if I’m wrong. I think so. There had been more than 5,000 burials so far and still increasing. Of course, the 2,500 tombs that you see nowadays are not the 2,500 tombs that have always existed, because of recycling. Unlike in many countries, you don’t necessarily have a grave forever unless you purchase your concession on a permanent basis. There’s been a certain amount of recycling in the past, and I will come back to that later.
Now, who governs the cemetery? Essentially, there is a board of 14 ambassadors to Italy, which was created in 1921. Includes both USA and Canada. They elect a president who holds office, one of the ambassadors who holds office for one or two years, and then they change. The current president is from South Africa.
There’s a staff of two and a half. Current director Amanda Thursfield, and two support staff in the office, and a handyman. Half a handyman. Everything else like burials, gardening, conservation is outsourced. Because when I say outsourced, I don’t mean it’s just left to look after itself. It’s very actively managed by the director. Then, we have a Visitors’ Centre which is increasingly active. That’s staffed by volunteers.
Then there is an advisory committee of five members with different areas of expertise which was created in 2006. The advisory committee meets with the director every four to six weeks. You might think that sounds very often and the poor director having to meet with these people every four to six weeks to justify herself. Not a bit of it. It works extremely well and she relies on the advisory committee. They rely on her.
This date, 2006 is quite important because it was set up following recommendations made about the future of the cemetery. Because if I had been giving this talk in 2005, I’d probably be telling you that there’s a strong risk that the cemetery will have to close. It had gotten to a very difficult situation, mainly financially, and there were serious questions being asked about its liability and whether it would continue.
In fact, what I’m talking to you about today is really, I wouldn’t say a success story, that may be being a bit too optimistic, but at least it’s brought the cemetery back from the brink under the directorship, for most of the time, on of Amanda Thursfield. The situation I’m presenting now is an outcome from the crisis of 2004, 2005, when ICCROM was invited to initially to do a report on the conservation needs of the cemetery.
Once we looked at the situation, we said, “Conservation is very important, but frankly if you’re not going to reorganize the finances, this cemetery is not going to survive.” That’s why this advisory committee was set up in 2006. Unlike so many reports which are produced and then sit on shelves, the recommendations of that report, I’m glad to say, have been largely followed and implemented. The whole cemetery is on a much sounder basis now.
Then, what I will tell you during the rest of my talk, in a sense reflects the direction of the current director and the advice of the advisory committee, always under the board of ambassadors, but they have a fairly hands-off role, unless they are called in for particular important questions which only the president can decide.
What is the protective status of the cemetery? As early as 1918, it was declared a monument of national interest. It’s protected under Italy’s Heritage law. It is inside the World Heritage Site of Rome that was declared as the line goes, in 1980. It has varying degrees of national and international protection.
As I said before, it was subject to all the policies of the city, in terms of vegetation rules about what you can do with trees, about replacing trees, you take down. Of course, with all legislation concerning burial as an active place of burial. Many, many obligations, but no public funding. Maybe a situation some of you are familiar with.
Of those 2,500 tombs, we reckon that about 80% of them have no one paying for them at all. They are the responsibility of the cemetery, in terms of conservation, maintenance, keeping them in good order. Even though there may be no one actively paying for them, no active families paying for them, you never know when a descendant might turn up one day and ask to see the tomb of their ancestors.
It helps to have kept in essentially good shape. Let’s talk a bit about what is the significance of the cemetery. What funding model do we use and what conservation model do we use? It is a highly, highly significant cemetery. There’s no getting away from it. It’s been called years ago, it was called the Cemetery of Artists and Poets. I’ve already mentioned Keats and Shelley. Many, many painters who came to Rome or writers, or sculptors who came to Rome because of the attraction of Rome. Either lived there to their old age and died, or fell ill and died and were buried in Rome.
One of the more recent ones, Gregory Corso who died only in 2001, the last of the Beat poets. More artists and poets, a Russian painter. I’m sorry our Russian colleagues couldn’t be here to see some of their compatriots buried there. American diplomat, George Marsh, George Perkins Marsh. Not only a career diplomat but also author of Man and Nature, who really first drew attention to the impact of man on the environment. Gottfried Semper, famous for his buildings in Dresden.
Then, many works by known sculptors. Again, people who had settled in Rome. Perhaps the best known, Thorwaldsen, and then William Wetmore Story from the States. Sculpture has not been studied as much as it deserves. Some of the best known ones have been studied but there’s a huge scope for more study of the sculpture in the cemetery.
Of course, many, many painters having settled in Rome and perhaps having got to know the cemetery, because one of their colleagues ended up there. Found it a very attractive place to depict. Here you have an engraving by J. M. W. Turner before he had visited Rome himself for the first time. He used someone else’s drawing to do this and depiction of the pyramid. Two blobs of white on the drawing. The blobs on the right are sheep and the blobs on the left are tombstones. Then various people admiring the view inside the walls, and you see what a rural place it was in those times.
A man called Scott Abalotto who painted this in 1840 showing the first new cemetery before it got extended. Historically quite interesting too, that he shows exactly where it extended to. One of the earliest photographs in Rome, again, showing it after the first extension of the 1850’s. It’s just being built. It hasn’t been used yet. Young trees, very important historically. Then various painters painting individual tombs. Either of their friend’s or on commission. This one was probably on commission from Russians living in Rome by a painter called Salomon Corrodi, who is Swiss. The last one, a picture of the tomb of Shelley by an English artist, William Bell Scott at about 1873.
Of course, there were many, many other people, apart from those who are celebrities, in some way famous or something. Many, many other people who feel the place is significant to them because of having someone who is buried there, or an ancestor who’s buried there.
The bottom left is the tomb of Richard Dana, author of Two Years Before the Mast. A great classic of sailing. All the faiths in the world are represented there, starting top left. Buddhists, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Jewish, and then in the middle, at the bottom, the tomb of Antonio Gramsci. The political philosopher, co-founder of the Italian Communist Party. Born a Catholic, not practicing the Catholic by the time he died, but in fact, he is buried there in the family tomb of his wife who was Russian Orthodox.
I put this in, seeing that in the program, there was to be a talk about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I’m sorry he couldn’t be present. Before the special cemetery on the right, which is in fact adjacent to our cemetery, was established during the 2nd World War. A few casualties of the first World War, are indeed buried in our cemetery in the image you see on the left there.
Just to give you some idea of some of the Americans who are buried there. The painters like Benton, Crowninshield, Freeman, Luther Terry, John Tilton, Elihu Vedder. The sculptors, Wetmore Story, Richard Greenhough, Franklin Simmons, and so on and so forth.
Then, various writers. I just mentioned Richard Dana, Gregory Corso, the poet, Marsh. Thomas Jefferson Page, we’ll see his tomb later, who was a commander in the confederate navy during the war. Mead, the only one of the three partners of McKim, Mead and White, who lived to see their building in Rome, the American Academy actually finished and open. He’s buried there. Gisella Richter, a great specialist on Greek face painting. Sarah Parker Remond, an abolitionist and speaker on abolition, whom we’ll mention later, and Haieff was a composer.
Huge natural values too, when we’re talking about the significance. As one of the commonest remarks from visitors having arrived in the cemetery and walked around, that it is such an oasis of peace and quiet and green, having been used to strolling around the sites of Rome with all its traffic. It is indeed an oasis and therefore, quite a haven also for wildlife and also for cats.
One of the protected colonies of cats in Rome is just adjacent to the pyramid, and we have a nice symbiosis with the ladies who look after the cat colony. Many of the cats have particular areas of the cemetery that they’re always in, and they’re extremely good at posing. As you can see. Huge numbers of reasons that make this place significant and very much admired by the people who visit it.
Again, emphasizing the date of 2005, because I think it’s only from that point that we can talk seriously about long term planning as opposed to keeping things going from day to day on a basis that proved to be non-sustainable back in 2005. As you’ve already seen, the staff is extremely few. It’s two and a half people managing all these contracts for the other functions that the cemetery has to carry out. Preventive conservation underlies the whole approach, as being the most cost-effective. Constant monitoring of condition and then intervention as needed, and when the funds allow, by conservators working on contract.
This is a slight different model to a few years ago where there was a staff conservator but we’ve reorganized many of the functions like that with the advantages and the disadvantages of having work done on the contract, but we use, usually, the same one or two conservators on the contract whom we know, and therefore, there is a continuity, even though, obviously the contracts are put out for competition.
Any family can ask to have their tomb cleaned and they then pay for it themselves, and it’s done by one of the conservators contracted to do so. Then, we feel the obligation to adopt whichever tombs of artistic, historic importance, deserve to be restored or in need of restoration, and then we feel the obligation to raise the funds in order to make that possible, because there’s no one else actually looking after those tombs.
It’s a mixed strategy. In some ways, it’s partly long term planning, but in many ways, it is opportunistic. I’m sure many of you may be thinking, “What’s your long term plan? Do you have a management plan? Do you have priorities?” I’ll be honest with yes and no. A lot of it is opportunistic. You take the opportunities when they come up. If someone is offering to finance a restoration, you don’t say no, because it doesn’t fit in to your current priorities. I’m sure many of you are used to these considerations that go into your daily work. It is frankly, a mixture of, as I say, deliberate planning and opportunistic taking up opportunities when they come up.
Just to give you two examples of conservation of buildings, though mainly, I’m going to be talking about conservation of tombs which I think is probably of greater interest. It’s a very fine chapel built by the Germans in 1898, when that last extension of the cemetery was acquired in 1894. A very good solid building. Used for funerals for people being buried in the cemetery, but also now especially we encourage other people to make use of it for appropriate purposes. Sometimes for funerals, for people being buried in other cemeteries elsewhere, and they like having access to this environment.
In 2009, we finally managed to have the window glass restored in a way that it should have been. The window glass was blown out. Not all of it, a lot of it was blown out during the 2nd World War, when the allies were bombing this part of Rome. A certain amount of damage was done to the cemetery and the window glass was temporarily restored at the end of the war, and only in 2009, were we able to acquire the same glass that had been used in 1898 which was still being made in Germany, and replaced it in the windows of the chapel.
One other building, the autopsy room. As far as I can work out, the autopsy room was not used for very long. Maybe 20 years at most, and was then largely unused. Last year, this year, we’ve had it renovated. It’s just one small room, but with a nice skylight, flooded with light, and we’ve renovated it in order to use it for services to visitors. For welcoming groups perhaps when it’s raining. It does rain in Rome. Or, for having little exhibits perhaps. Anyway, opportunities to welcome people, other than our Visitors’ Centre which we also have.
I’m sure, the alteration of tombs, the deterioration of tombs and their conservation is of greater interest here. Starting top left, just surface alteration as a result of atmospheric pollution and the very high humidity levels that exist in many parts of the cemetery. Particularly those parts which are most heavily vegetated.
In terms of rainfall, I might just mention that the annual rainfall in Rome is higher than it is in London. It comes in different ways, but in total, it is very high. Then, top right, obviously, invasive higher plants, ivy, controlling it so that it doesn’t get to the stage of damaging the monuments.
Bottom left, grave of a Swedish sculptor, Byström, where the vegetation adds to the attraction of the grave, but we’d always monitor it to make sure that it wasn’t getting to the stage of threatening the tomb. In fact, since we took that photograph, it has been cleaned. You see the effect there of the lead incised, lettering on the gravestone. Then the streaks below the letters, as a result in that pattern of different surface alteration colors, and because of the lead, the water streaming off the lead down the stone.
Then, on the right, the amount of actual destruction, I’m glad to say, is relatively little for reasons I’ll give in a moment. That’s just a photo of a storm damage, as long as 30 years ago now. You can imagine, with this closely serried ranks of tombs, when one of those trees does fall, it does cause quite a lot of damage.
To prevent that, we have to take preventive action. Summarizing the main deterioration factors, all of which will be familiar to you. There’s the physical impact, the microbiological growth. Some tombs structurally unstable, corrosion, metal fixtures. I’m glad to say, vandalism is rare, which is a function of management, as usual. Increasing visitor impact. Those are some of the deterioration factors found, I guess in all cemeteries.
Looking at the vegetation. Obviously, there’s regular maintenance carried out by the, usually two gardeners a day, of the contracted gardening services who had been with us now for several years. Many of these trees are old, cypresses, as we know are very long-lived species, as indeed the pines can be. In order to avoid the damage we saw in that previous slide, and which did recur every few years with very high storms.
Just to give an example of the age to which cypresses can grow. On the left, drawing of this tomb of a Scott. It was in fact called Scott. Here and here, you see the same tomb here. We know that when Shelley’s ashes were buried there in 1822, Trelawny who was responsible for burial, planted six cypress trees around Shelley’s grave.
I’m pretty sure that this cypress trees that you see there, are amongst the six that he planted. They are a hundred and eighty years old. We have another example in the old part of the cemetery, where again, there was one cypress tree left which I think is also about the same age.
Occasionally, we do have snow in Rome, and because of it not being common, it’s impact can be all the greater. This was one tree that was brought down by a very light snowfall, but immediately the fire brigade intervened and within 24 hours, everything was cleared. Therefore, we need to take preventive conservation for trees, especially the tall pine trees which would cause a huge amount of damage if they fell. We had a tree survey done in 2006 of all the trees in the cemetery, in order to assess those that were at risk and to avoid just that situation.
The only way to remove these very large trees from that area of very closely set, rows of tombs, because you cannot get equipment inside the cemetery and those places, is to hire the largest crane in Rome and to do it from outside the walls, taking them down from the top. Very expensive. Not the thing you want to have to do very often, but it has to be done chiefly for the safety of staff and visitors, and then secondly, for avoiding damage to the tombs at the cemetery.
Another tree problem, the red palm weevil, as you know, started now quite some years ago, about 15 years ago in Asia and then spread the whole way across the Middle East. Arrived in Mediterranean Europe, and I read, has reached California about two years ago. Fatal for palm trees. Under local laws in Rome, any palm tree that is found to be infested with the red palm weevil, must be taken down immediately and burnt.
Despite all the best measures, a large number of palm trees in Rome had been affected. In this case, there were two of them in front of the chapel. One came down early on, and we tried to rescue the one on the left, the second one by feeding into its crown pesticides, but without success. Both of them have now been lost.
Here’s an example of the different materials which are used for monuments there. We’re talking about marbles, travertine, peperino, which is a volcanic tuff. A few of sandstone, granite. The gilt bronze on the right, the bronze in the middle and then the gilt bronze, and the gilding which is a tomb of about 1880. I emphasize that has not been regilt. On careful cleaning, it was discovered about 90% of the original gilding was still there.
Rome is a very polluted city, unfortunately. In the year 2000, the pyramid was cleaned by conservators and this is how it looks like in 2011. Another cleaning of the pyramid is going on right as we speak, sponsored by Japanese businessmen. That’s what it looked like last week on the left. With half of it cleaned, and that’s the result of only 12 years exposure.
If I’m taking groups around and I show them the cleaned area and the uncleaned area and I ask them, when do you think the pyramid was cleaned last? They usually say, about 50 years ago if ever. When I tell them it was cleaned in the year 2000, they don’t believe me.That is the atmosphere that’s affecting the pyramid and therefore, all of our monuments in the cemetery. Which, has a big impact on conservation needs. How do we fund conservation? All the people who hold active concessions to a tomb in the cemetery have to pay an annual maintenance charge. If you ask me, it is almost 400 Euro now, which is I think, about $500.
There are new concessions, people buying concessions, which are for 30 years, which then would have to be renewed if the family wants to. The cemetery earns a very little over heads on burial fees. Then we fund raise, as I said before, for conservation of specific tombs, and we have a Friends’ Organization and produce this newsletter which has a lot of news about what’s going on in the cemetery.
It’s also an opportunity to try and explain to people what conservation is. It’s not just taking the household cleaner to a tomb, or water blasting them. It’s a technical field which is carried out by properly trained conservators, with a great deal of care. It’s an opportunity to explain that, while also raising funds, and talking about having articles about interesting people buried in the cemetery who aren’t particularly well-known otherwise.
There’s a common misconception that these embassies which make up the governing body, pay for the cemetery. Unfortunately, no. If only it were true, but a few of them, the ones I’ve listed there, are quite good at giving occasional grants, maybe every year like Germany and Russia, for conservation of tombs of their nationals in the cemetery. Never very much, but enough to have one or two tombs of their nationals conserved every year.
We’ve very grateful to those countries that do give us something. Institutes, museums. There may be a museum in the native country of one of the artists who died in Rome, who still retain the interest in that artist as having died there, and occasionally, they would give us money to maintain or even to restore the tomb of that artist in the cemetery.
We’ve had one or two collaborative conservation projects with other conservation institutes. The most important of those is the one that we have now with ICCROM and the Getty Conservation Institute. Every two years, they have their international stone conservation course, and we collaborate with them in order to provide field work opportunities for that course. I’ll say a bit more about that in a moment.
As I say, we have the Friends’ who can become members at different levels of subscription, and therefore, those funds are also available for conservation of tombs that we think of as priorities. Then, there may be descendants or individuals who have particular interest in certain tombs. For instance, the Keats-Shelley House, helps to pay for the maintenance of the tombs of Keats and Shelley, and Shelley’s family members.
Grant giving foundations, is an obvious candidates. I can say, frankly, we have not had much luck with grant giving foundations, making generic applications for conservation of even for specific tombs. We have found that those who have a particular connection with the tomb or a family connection, or a cultural educational connection, are far more likely to give money than a grant giving foundation. I don’t know what your experience is, but we have found that sometimes, cemeteries are a real, dead … That’s the wrong word. Really, not acceptable to lots of grant giving foundations. There’s a blockage about them. I hope I’m wrong.
Then, there are visitor donations. We do not charge a fee for visitors. We ask for donations. It’s a suggested donation model, and so we get, now increasing amounts of voluntary donations from visitors. Some give, many don’t, but it all helps. Just to give you some examples. The tomb of a Russian painter, Karl Bryullov. I don’t like to show just before and after. There’s a great deal that goes into producing the result on the right after cleaning the tomb of Bryullov, which is by a known sculptor that is recorded. This case, being done by the conservator who is then on staff as the staff conservator.
Just to give you some idea to you conservators, the sorts of methods that may be used on a tomb. It depends obviously on what are the problems of that particular tomb, and more or less of these methods or variants on these methods might be used in any particular case. From survey and documentation, the surface cleaning, filling in cracks, removing particularly surface crusts. The biological treatment, and so on and so forth. Final consolidation if needed, but not necessarily with ethyl silicate, and always, detailed, detailed documentation for the record.
This reflects pretty standard Italian conservation methodology. As you know in Italy, the conservation tradition is extremely strong, and there’s a fairly good consensus about what constitutes good practice and what should be followed.
I mentioned this joint collaboration with ICCROM and the Getty Conservation Institute. We have jointly, we choose which tombs are going to be worked on. First was in 2011, and second, last year. The cemetery insists that whatever work is started, must be completed, because we do not want to be left with half-finished tombs when the course finishes. It’s a requirement that if work is not finished by the time the participants or international conservators from all over the world, go home, then ICCROM and the GCI must pay for the rest of the project to be completed.
Huge benefits to the cemetery and to the partners, because the laws in Italy, they would never be allowed to work on an Italian state property. The international stone course was held since 1976 in Venice, and during all of those years, they were never allowed actually to do hands-on work. With this cooperation with the cemetery, they’re allowed to do work in the cemetery, which has been approved by the authorities in Rome with whom we maintain very close contacts. Therefore, they are able to do practical work with huge benefits to the course, of course. Benefits the cemetery as we get six or seven tombs each of these years, restored to very high standards by these international participants.
On the left, you see a conservator from Palestine, working on the base of a monument, and on the right, you see a conservator from Croatia, also at work in 2013. Just another example from 2013. This tomb top left, I think, compress is being applied with ammonium carbonate for cleaning of the surface, after the condition mapping has been done as you see on the right. Then, the finished tomb, bottom left.
I mentioned Thomas Jefferson Page earlier, who was a captain in the confederate navy. On the left, you see the situation before. Very badly deteriorated. You couldn’t even tell the difference between that gray marble in the background and the white marble of this rather fine art nouveau figure, which is by a known Italian sculptor, who was commissioned in 1900, 1899 to 1900, to do this tomb for the Page family.
Again, an example of raising funds externally, through the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who raised the money, not only in States, also through their chapters in Spain and Germany, where there are very active chapters of the SCV. Other American sculptors, Franklin Simmons and William Wetmore Story, that I mentioned earlier. It looks like a before and after on the left, it is.
The top left is before. That’s after it had been restored in the year 2000, and after as it is nowadays. That’s only twelve years of exposure to this very humid environment and the pollution of Rome. Again, we’ve been trying to raise money to do yet another restoration of Simmons’ sculpture, the Angel of the Resurrection, but very expensive because of its height, requiring extensive scaffolding.
The problem with the Angel of Grief, which William Wetmore Story did on the right, after his wife died. Story was already a man of 78 and he himself died 18 months later, and was also buried there, is that, it has become too popular. We use it, in some ways as an icon of the cemetery, but it’s also been used by various Goths, and it’s become an icon for heavy metal fans.
That’s why we have this notice saying to people around that, “Video surveillance, please do not touch.” Those of you with sharp eyes, which is not me, may see that there’s a half a finger missing on that hand. It’s been missing for quite some years, and under the policy of the sovereign, we are not allowed to replace it.
The adjacent finger was knocked off by a visitor about four years ago. Someone pointed out that another finger has been broken off. Ten minutes later, a visitor walked in to the Visitor Centre and said, “Look, look what I found just below the hand of the Angel of Grief.” It was the fragment of the finger which had been broken off. We were allowed to put that back, but the other finger, we’re not allowed to restore.
I say, it’s become an icon for Goths. If any of you remember Evanescence from Arkansas, that’s on their album cover, and Nightwish from Finland, and then one or two other bands which have also used the photograph without permission for their album covers.
A number of copies of the sculpture exist, most of them in the United States, but not all. One was made for the Cotes des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal in 2003. One and a half times, life size, and if you want to read an account of how this was done, if you look on our website, there’s an account by the sculptor of the really quite extraordinary operation they undertook in order to install this copy of the Angel of Grief for the Remillard family.
I just mentioned, we’re not allowed to replace that missing half finger. This is Italian restoration philosophy, in this case, which I think is a particularly unfortunate one. A tomb of 1908, Norwegian lady, who died quite young. We have photographs of it just after it was installed. See how quite a lot of the cemetery is still not occupied, still empty space. We have photographs from the 80’s showing the sculpture, and early 1990’s, someone during the night, knocked the head off, not to be found again. We are not allowed to replace this, even though, we could make a really quite convincing copy of it. That’s the approach. That’s the Ethos with which we operate, or have to operate.
I mentioned earlier the problem of recycling of tombs. You can imagine this very enclosed space, very limited space, which has not expanded since 1894. In a country where, Catholics too, only acquire a right for burial in the ground, usually, for a very short period of time until the remains are exhumed and put elsewhere. I mentioned that nowadays, at least the concessions are for 30 years in that cemetery. This often is difficult to understand by people from countries where once you have a grave, you have a grave forever.
Because of the space problems in this cemetery, there had been at least two phases in which a number of tombs were recycled. In the 1930’s, so 30 years after that last extension of the cemetery, the director then decided a large number of graves, either with no stones on them or stones which are in bad condition would be recycled, and 600 graves were recycled. Then, there was another phase in the 1990’s when quite a lot of graves were recycled too.
I think the grave of Sarah Parker Remond, who was this extraordinary lady who owned a reputation for speaking against slavery yet in 50’s or 60’s in the States, and was such a good speaker that she was asked to go on a speaking tour to Britain, which she did. There continued her own education in London, until, during a career switch as it were, and decided to study medicine in Florence. Then, she practiced medicine in Florence before later in life, marrying an Italian and eventually moving to Rome and dying there.
Now, from an old inventory, we were able to confirm what people had always said that she was buried in the cemetery, but unfortunately, her was one of the graves which had been recycled. There was no visible evidence in the cemetery of her having been buried there.
That entry from the inventory first to her name, explains where her grave was. Five rows below the tomb of the poet Gerta, and then assume after, she’s been exhumed. The evidence was certainly there, but her grave had been removed, and a lot of people thought this was extremely unfortunate. As a result of a fund raising campaign in Salem, Massachusetts, where she was born, we now finally, have a commemorative plaque to her, erected just a few months ago.
Many of the stones from these graves that were recycled were put into a kind of a graveyard, along the walls of the cemetery, but if you think about 600 tombs were exhumed, some of which would have had stone markers. In the 1930’s, we only have a tiny, tiny proportion of those in this area along the walls, and many, many others must have been removed in the past.
Nowadays, we’re very strict about, as I say, only working in agreement with the families that at the end of their 30 year concession, they have to decide what they want to do, whether to take out a new concession or to agree to have the tomb removed. It is one of those most controversial aspects of cemeteries, particularly in these conditions, and one specially, it’s very hard to … You can’t undo things which had been done in the past, and for instance when a relative contacts us and asks us about a grave, and it has been removed, it’s always a slightly difficult moment.
Even during the 1930’s and more recently, all of these are recorded and there’s always a record of who has been moved. There’s usually record of inscriptions on the graves, and so we know what those were. Not in all cases, but in many. Some stones were saved. For instance, this is no longer here nowadays, and I assumed it had gone, until to my surprise I found the gravestone leaning against the wall at the back of the cemetery.
Some of them are still there, but most of them have gone. These plaques were put up in the 1930’s listing all the people who, with their date of death and so on who had been removed and put into the ossuaries in the cemetery. The ossuaries are also used for those who were too poor to have their own gravestone or own burial place, but are buried in the ossuaries.
Just quickly, in terms of visitors who are increasing in number nowadays, that acts as our guideline as to what the aims are. It is first and foremost, the cemetery, and that must always be the main consideration. These are Russian graves with tulips on them during the day of Russian commemoration.
Many commemorations around particular graves. On the left, you have Germans going around the graves of a number of art historians, famous art historians who died in Rome. There’s Thomas Jefferson Page at the top before it was cleaned. A celebration, again, by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Then, a the bottom some Swedes around a Swedish grave.
I’m glad to say that many local residents now, Catholic, Italians, come in because they see it as a nice, quiet, green space, either old style to read the newspaper, or new style to use the computer, and just using it as a place of quiet and relaxation. We have our Visitors’ Centre which you see on the left there, which originally, was the office and chapel back in the 19th century, now converted into the small, but adequate Visitors’ Centre, with publications and post cards on sale, and the database of all the people buried there which people can consult.
Many guided groups, and many, many schools, universities and other cultural associations come. We either provide guides if we are asked to on appointment, on reservation basis, or people bring their own guides. Even if you have nuns who tend to be well-behaved visitors.
That’s been a summary of the many aspects of the management and conservation of this rather particular type of cemetery. I hope it’s spurred some thoughts and some of you must rung a lot of bells with your own experience which I look forward to hearing about over the next two days. I will be happy to take any questions. Thank you.
For some 300 years foreigners dying in Rome who were not Catholic have been buried in the city’s Non-Catholic Cemetery. The burial-ground is located inside the walls of the Historic Centre of Rome which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Cemetery is of very great historical significance, for those whose graves lie there (e.g. the Romantic poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley) but also because of the many artists and writers who have depicted it over the years in drawings, paintings, prose and poetry. Several of its sculptures are by recognized artists, although little studied as yet. Its garden setting has its own interest as a mix of Mediterranean species and those northern European species more familiar to many of its residents.
Other attributes add to the task of managing this historic site: it is a private cemetery which does not receive any regular public funding; it is still in active use for the burial of those who qualify; and it is an increasingly popular visitor destination. While subject to national and city legislation that governs historic preservation, garden and tree maintenance and burial procedures, it has to be self-sustaining financially.
The paper will explain how these challenges are being met, generally in terms of site management but also specifically with reference to individual tombs. Examples will give priority to Americans who died in Rome. Among them will be the graves of the Confederate naval captain Thomas Jefferson Page, the sculptors William Wetmore Story and Franklin Simmons, and a memorial to the anti-slavery activist and doctor, Sarah Remond Parker.
Nicholas Stanley-Price is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome and edits its Friends’ Newsletter. He has recently published “The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. Its history, its people and its survival for 300 years”. He is a former Director-General of ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) and has published extensively on archaeology and conservation.