Cemetery of the Week #158: Staglieno Cemetery

Staglieno deathbed

This deathbed sculpture and the panorama below are taken from the Souvenir du Cimetiere de Genes, published in 1930.

The Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno
Piazzale Resasco, 16100 Genoa, Italy
Opened: January 1, 1851
Size: 250 acres
Number of interments: 117,600 gravesites

Thirty-five years after the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno opened in Genoa, Italy, the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro decreed that Staglieno was the most beautiful cemetery in the world. It is still considered one of the largest open-air museums in Europe, full of one-of-a-kind works of art in marble. It’s made many lists of the world’s most beautiful graveyards.

Staglieno panoramaThe cemetery occupies a space in Genoa’s suburbs.  Originally it was nothing special, but as the local merchants grew wealthy through the maritime trade in the 19th century, Staglieno became “an avatar of posthumous consumerism.” Many of its sculptures were commissioned pre-need, so that the living could enjoy them before being buried beneath them.

James Stevens Curl in his landmark book The Victorian Celebration of Death has this to say about it: “With its classical architecture, dramatic site, and essential urbaneness, [Staglieno] is unquestionably the grandest of all the cemeteries in Europe. Many connoisseurs consider it to be the most splendid cemetery in the world because of the excellence and quality of sculpture in its galleries.”

The cemetery’s central square is paved with marble grave markers, which are surrounded with thousands of sculptures. The Cemetery Book by Tom Weil says Staglieno is Italy’s largest cemetery.

Staglieno Oneto

The Monteverde angel from Staglieno: The Art of the Marble Carver

In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain describes the cemetery: “On either side, as one walks down the middle of the passage, are monuments, tombs, and sculptural figures that are exquisitely wrought and are full of grace and beauty. They are new and snowy; every outline is perfect, every feature guiltless of mutilation, flaw, or blemish.” While industrial pollution has dimmed the snowy white statuary, it’s still remarkably lovely.

The most famous statue in Staglieno is Giulio Monteverde’s angel standing over the Oneto family tomb. The androgynous angel holds one hand to his bare chest, gazing down with a fierce fixed expression. At his side he holds a long trumpet, indicating that he is the angel of resurrection who will blow the trumpet at the end of the world to call the dead from their graves. Monteverde’s angel has been copied in cemeteries around the world.

Staglieno Beautiful Death

David Robinson’s photo, which served as the cover of his book Saving Graces.

Ken Worpole’s Last Landscapes has this to add: “The cult of representing the agony of death and parting through the languid, eroticized figure of a female nude, or of a naked couple entwined in lovemaking, reached its apotheosis in a number of the sculptures in the Staglieno Cemetery.” Many of these erotic nudes appear in photographer David Robinson’s book Saving Graces.

Walter S. Arnold has examined Staglieno’s monuments from a sculptor’s point of view.  My review of his The Art of the Marble Carver is here.

Useful links:

Staglieno’s homepage

The American Friends of Italian Monumental Sculpture are working to restore the cemetery. Here’s some of the statuary in process of being conserved.

Atlas Obscura‘s listing on Staglieno, with beautiful photographs

Yet more beautiful photos of Staglieno



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