Saving Graces: Images of Women European Cemeteries by David Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This beautiful little book is the loveliest collection of graveyard photographs I have ever seen. The reproduction of the prints is flawless. The black and white stills are luminous, transmuting marble and bronze into the textures of light. The photos are displayed to best advantage, each one filling a trade-size page, faced by a blank white page which reflects light and helps to focus your eyes.
Robinson first took note of the statues of grieving women as he photographed Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Life-sized figures of women adorned graves all around him. Some of them were decorous muses, laying wreaths. Others were convulsed in their grief, faces buried in their hands or shoulders hunched against the headstones. As he traveled into Italy, he discovered barely clad beauties, distraught in their bereavement, who seemed to have flung themselves across the graves.
The cover photo is the most dramatic of all these. Her exquisite body is entirely nude, save for a sprig of roses tucked under her right breast and a chaste corner of drapery across one thigh. She appears to have fainted, too overcome by distress to remember where she left her clothing.
In several of the photos that follow, maidens seem to have swooned back onto the vaults. Some of them are carved as if lying beneath a light sheet that only highlights their dishabille beneath — it’s as if they’ve laid down amidst the tombs to sleep. The sculptors have gone to great lengths to indicate that these are lifelike figures, not the dead portrayed. Lusting for them is more like Pygmalion’s yearning than necrophilia.
Other figures, usually in low relief rather than stand-alone statues, are carved as if draped in muslin shrouds. Their faces are hidden, though their bare breasts are revealed. Are these the dead who have passed beyond and await the living?
In his explanatory text, Robinson suggests that all of these women, no matter their dress, serve as escorts in the journey ahead. This lovely sentiment is perhaps naive, but it’s in keeping with the high romanticism of the photos here collected.
I highly recommend searching out this book. Copies can be had from Amazon: Saving Graces
This review originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #1.
View all my reviews
Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #10: Père Lachaise Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World
Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #158: Staglieno Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Your Take-along Guide to Graves & Graveyards Around the World