Staglieno aside, there are two other vast graveyards filled with astounding sculpture in Italy, the Cimitero Monumentale in Milano and the Cimitero Monumentale in Torino, and earlier last month I visited the former. The light was a little chill and harsh, but as it chucked it down with rain during the rest of my stay I happened to have picked the right day to have a look.
Unlike Staglieno the cemetery boasts a palatial facade to announce you have arrived at a place of civic importance. Designed by Carlo Maciachini, its wings draw in the visitor and it’s cloisters act as eye catching frames from some of the graveyard’s grandest (if rather conventional) sculpture groups.
Begun in 1863, with the first burials taking place three years later, the Monumetale is a short stroll uphill from the Garibaldi Metro station, though the entire area is currently a jumble of noisy building sites and cramped pedestrian walkways. Even the piazza outside the Monumentale itself is currently a large building site, adding to the racket inside the cemetery. Unlike Staglieno, which is more like a peaceful haven or garden, it’s Milanese equivalent is surrounded on two sides by very busy roads (plus the present building site) and a mainline railway, so the birds have to compete with incessant sirens, train and blaring car horns. The northern city intrudes in a way its more hectic Ligurian counterpart never does.The city intrudes
Like Staglieno it has its seemingly endless arcades, top floor modern niches and a kind of “mine’s bigger than yours” mentality which makes these places so compulsive, or as one anonymous commentator wrote in 1900, made the Milanese Monumentale “an arena of rivalry between the fattest purses and the most skilled chisels”.The Last Kiss by Emilio Quadrelli, Volonte Vezzoli grave, 1889Bocconi Mausoleum (on the right)The Legacy of Love by Ernesto Bazzaro. Paolina Sioliand and Pasquale Crespi Mausoleum, 1908The Raising of Lazarus by Ernesto Bazzaro. Saquadrelli Mausoleum, 1911
In the centre of its facade is the Famedio, a wonderful domed hall commemorating the heroes of the Risorgimento, though few of them are actually buried here.Famedio
While Genova is a port, Milano is a great industrial city, and the crafts and professions of metal workers, architects, engineers and sculptors combine to give the work on display here a different, less dreamy, less erotic feel than the Mediterranean garden to the south. Milano boasts the most grandiose collection of Liberty style (Stile Floreale in Italian) mausolea in the country, showcasing sometimes brilliant, sometimes hideous, occasionally downright bizarre collaborations between artists, artisans and patrons.Pierd Houy family tomb, by Primo Giudici, 1901
Dating from the same period were the Symbolists, who’s works appear near identical to the Liberty style, however Symbolism was fundamentally an idea, not a style. In a reaction to the crisis of faith following the age of revolutions and Darwin it aspired to say something significant about death now stripped of a sure and certain resurrection. The Liberty and Symbolist works had titles and were exhibited in International competitions and exhibitions gaining fame and commissions for their makers.Angel Born From a Rose Bush by Enrico Pancera. Famiglia Prada Corielli, 1920Detail of The Last Kiss by Michele Vedani, Bonelli family tomb, 1907
Symbolism’s greatest exponent was Leonardo Bistolfi, the “Poet of Death” and one of his greatest works is in the Monumentale, The Dream of 1900, adorning the grave of Erminia Caitari Vogt. The face of a beautiful woman and floral forms emerge from a cascade of near liquid, rippling stone. Bistolfi would be the most influential Italian sculptor until the rise of Fascism, when the Bistolfian style was seen as decadent, too soft and Romantic for the Supermen.The Dream
A truly bizarre representation of Fascist art adorns the Umberto Fabe grave with its sculpture by Enrico Pancera, commemorating the dead airman in 1941. Its hero is about to start a large propeller, escaping to the heavens from the clutching Earthbound tentacles of the giant Medusa head. The head is clearly a copy of the Gorgon painted by Caravaggio on the shield now in the Uffizi.
Pancera’s work is a late example of the Art Deco style, and Monumentale is rich in other examples of this Jazz age look.Sommaruga Faina grave, by Giannino Castiglioni. 1935 Tullo Morgagni tomb, by Guido Micheletti and Enzo Bifoli. 1930Pogliani grave, by Tarcisio Pogliani, 1928
Like Staglieno the Monumentale is full of poignant monuments to children such as the one in the Jewish section for Luisa Estella Jung who died age 4 in 1886, sculpted by Luigi Vimercati. Although a Jewish memorial, it is carved entirely in Catholic style, reflecting the integration, ambition and confidence of the city's successful and wealthy Jewish occupants at this time. The toy bear is a real, recent offering by the way, and not a Teddy in stone.Amelia Clerici Bagozzi, died 2 years old, 1904Ofelia Donini, died 8 years old, 1909
Not all the images of children however are memorials to real people, rather they act as metaphors or symbols, such as the riot of putti on Faith, Brotherly Love and Mutual Aid by Ernesto Bazzaro, on Ermeneglio Castiglioni’s 1897 grave, or the mini riot of instrument playing bambini who adorn the 1904 grave of Ulisse Merini, by Serafino Bianchi. In life Merini was a philanthropic benefactor of infant education.Castiglioni tombMerini tomb
In a space filled with wonders, three of the most memorable are all by one man, Giannino Castiglioni. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise is a writhing frieze of Michelangelo inspired forms adorning Andrea Bernocchi tomb, built in 1933.
His unique, larger than life sized Last Supper group of 1935 is assembled above the mausoleum of Davide Campari, who made his fortune from that fabulous aperitif which bears his name.
The tragically flawed version by Leonardo Da Vinci can of course be seen (booked in advance only for 15 minutes) a few Metro stops away in Santa Maria Delle Grazie.
When I first arrived the work was redecorated by some students for some illicit art project which had been cleared when I returned to the spot a few hours later.With additions
His third great tomb takes its inspiration from greater antiquity. The Via Crucis of 1936, crowning Antonio Bernocchi’s last resting place spirals upward in a narrative form borrowed from the great pagan column of Trajan in Roma.
Monumentale’s strangest mausoleum however must be The Vital Breath of Nature, an ominous giantess looming over Work, by Enrico Butti, on the mausoleum of Gaetano Besenzancia. The figures of Work struggling with the oxen and plough date from 1907 and are staunchly Realist in manner corresponding to a new wave of Social Realism in Lombardy.
However the enigmatic figure of The Breath of Life is a later, 1912 addition and owes more to Symbolism. It is currently undergoing restoration and is sadly covered in hideous scaffolding, a shame as this was one piece I was most looking forward to seeing.
Like Staglieno the place’s size ultimately defeated me and I missed a fair few of the works I had hoped to see, so with the prospect of the Besenzancia tomb restored and unveiled a return trip in the future will be a must, life’s little accidents allowing. Torino next though I think.