Saving the masterpieces at Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa

  • We're saving the sculpture of Staglieno cemetery, Genoa, Italy

    Everyone visits Rome, Florence and Venice, but Genoa isn't on the "Grand Tour", and a cemetery on the outskirts of the city certainly isn't on the tourist radar. However, Staglieno Cemetery is a hidden treasure. It is the largest outdoor museum in Europe and holds the finest collection of mid 19th to mid 20th century Italian marble sculpture. Mark Twain wrote rave reviews of it, with good reason.

    We are an American non-profit 501(c)3 supporting restoration of these irreplaceable marble sculptures. To date we have restored 5 masterpieces, with two more currently underway. Early next year we hope to restore a 16 foot tall Art Nouveau masterpiece, the 1918 Pozzo/Debarbieri memorial by the artist Luigi Brizzolara (pictured below). The heavy layers of dirt are made up of pollutants that break down the surface of the marble. The dirt also obscures the design, making it very difficult to read the dramatic beauty of this work. Imagine how stunning it will be when returned to its original glory.

    A generous donor has pledged matching funds, so your donation will be doubled. Any amount will help. Visit http://donate.staglieno.com to learn more and make a contribution.


    The Pozzo Debarbieri monument is flanked by two smaller marble gems, the Luigi Bodoano and Francesco Maino crypts. We plan to restore all three.

    We all understand giving to support medical care, feeding the hungry, and providing emergency disaster relief. We understand donating to local cultural activities, to enhance the quality of life in our own communities. But, why donate to restore statues in an obscure cemetery on the outskirts of a city that we might have never even considered visiting?

    Our oldest records of civilization come to us through stone carving. This art has been with us throughout history. Italy at the time of these sculptures was a high point in technical skill, artistry and story telling in marble. These sculptures are at a critical point, deteriorating before our very eyes. This is a unique opportunity to save this irreplaceable cultural treasure for future generations.


    The 1885 Benjamin Whitehead monument by Lorenzo Orengo, before and after our restoration.


    Current work in progress on the 1881 statue of Caterina Campodonica, "the Hazelnut Vendor", the most beloved statue at Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa. This is one of the finest examples of the brief, little known artistic period known as "Bourgeois Realism" or "Naturalism".


    Any size donation helps. If you are able to sponsor a sculpture you will be thanked and remembered with a plaque placed near the sculpture. Please contact me for more information.
  • Huge cemetery with a bus route! There are a lot of interesting mausoleum.
  • Our restoration of the Chiarella DeKatt sculpture is coming along beautifully. This 1880 sculpture by Domenico Carli was covered with a dense layer of dirt and black crust, which was retaining moisture and attacking the surface of the marble. She is being cleaned with a combination of laser cleaning and application of a gel with mild solvents. This penatrate the pores of the marble, and, when removed after 20 minutes, lifts off the dirt. These are very delicate methods with no adverse effect on the marble.

    We are almost half way to our fundraising goal. Will you help us restore more of these beautiful art works at Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy? Visit http://donate.staglieno.com/ to learn more.

  • Quote: Our restoration of the Chiarella DeKatt sculpture is coming along beautifully. This 1880 sculpture by Domenico Carli was covered with a dense layer of dirt and black crust, which was retaining moisture and attacking the surface of the marble. She is being cleaned with a combination of laser cleaning and application of a gel with mild solvents. This penatrate the pores of the marble, and, when removed after 20 minutes, lifts off the dirt. These are very delicate methods with no adverse effect on the marble.

    We are almost half way to our fundraising goal. Will you help us restore more of these beautiful art works at Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy? Visit http://donate.staglieno.com/ to learn more.

    What about volunteer opportunities? It's often done that way in Venice. Venice has short course schools that teach people how to restore works of art, as it is so needed, and then they get an assignment. This is not for paintings, but it is done for pillars and monuments. Do you have volunteer opportunities?
  • Quote: What about volunteer opportunities? It's often done that way in Venice. Venice has short course schools that teach people how to restore works of art, as it is so needed, and then they get an assignment. This is not for paintings, but it is done for pillars and monuments. Do you have volunteer opportunities?
    The sculpture restoration is a highly technical work, extremely delicate and precise. The restorers often do have assistants or interns, students who already have three or four years of training in the field. There is also a restoration laboratory at Staglieno that is used for teaching, and student tour groups are often brought there. However, it only had short term funding from a couple of large Italian corporations, and I don't know if they were able to get the funding renewed for 2017.

    There is an excellent volunteer organization called Per Staglieno which does a lot of work on maintaining the cemetery. Our organization, AFIMS, supports them and I personally have made a contribution. They work in the outdoor sections, where the trees, bushes and weeds are overgrowing the sculptures and walking paths. Generally they meet once a month, with groups of 20 to 30 volunteers, to cut the overgrowth and clean out around the sculptures. This overgrowth is very threatening to the sculptures, and the work they do is very effective and important. Staglieno covers over 30 hectares (80 acres), so it's quite a task they've undertaken.
  • Good to know. In Venice, before you get to touch anything remotely important, you need a degree to become a, "restorer." However, volunteer opportunities such as you describe, abound. Being a volunteer at a historic place is a great way to experience Italy.
  • Nice work.
  • Quote: The sculpture restoration is a highly technical work, extremely delicate and precise. The restorers often do have assistants or interns, students who already have three or four years of training in the field.
    One doesn't want a repeat of
    this restoration.
  • You got me. I'll make a donation as soon as I land.

    I was in a discussion in San Francisco two weeks ago, in a mixed group of Italians and Americans. Someone was talking about why they love to travel to Italy, and said it is because, "In Italy they value culture so much!" Jaws were dropped by all Italians in the room!

    For the last five years in Venice, you had to see the Bridge of Sighs covered, while under a reconstruction blanket advertising a clothing store. Half of San Marco's Basilica was covered up in scaffolding while a famous clothes designer paid to clean it up. Then after about three years, they closed the other half and had another giant advertisement outside while another designer cleaned up the other half.

    Until about a year ago, to go through the entrance to Piazza San Marco you had to go past a gigantic sign of George Clooney advertising to sell you a $6,000 Omega watch.

    Until recently in Rome, half of the Colosseo was covered in scaffolding for years while an Italian fashion giant paid to save it with reconstruction. The Fountain of Trevi was recently closed for about a year and a half for cleaning, and the Spanish Steps just reopened last month after being closed down for a long time because it was almost at a point of filth beyond repair.

    It's hard to imagine a place that puts less value on its incredible culture than Italy. Both Venice and Florence are currently under threat from UNESCO, which is thinking about revoking their status as world heritage sites.

    The headline in the newspaper in Venice today is, "Tra dieci anni la città sarà museo." That means, "Within ten years the city will just be a museum."

    Italy doesn't seem to value itself, which makes what you are doing so important. Every place is asking for money, just to replace the light bulbs, so I didn't give your place any special attention.

    Let's face it, Genova is not a very nice city. I pass through it a lot, but the only time I regularly spent there was when I spent a summer semester living in Torino, and we would take the train to Genova most weekends to go to the beach.

    What caught my attention is something I just read in the paper about this place, a place I've never been to, and it was a quotation from Mark Twain, obviously written in English, translated into Italian, that I'm going to try to translate from Italian, back into English, although of course I have nowhere near his way with words. It expresses exquisitely why your cause should be supported, and while I will make an anonymous donation when I land.

    È un ampio corridoio di marmo fiancheggiato da colonne che si stende intorno ad un grande quadrato di terreno libero; il suo spazioso pavimento è di marmo e su ogni lastra c'è un'iscrizione, giacché ogni lastra ricopre una salma.

    There is a giant corridor of marble, lined by columns that extend internally into a giant open square space. The space you walk across is floored in marble, and each marble has a name upon it, with the name of the person buried underneath, so that every step you take, you are stepping on someone's soul and grave, which could next be your own.

    Da una parte e dall'altra, avanzando nel mezzo del passaggio, vi sono monumenti, tombe, figure scolpite squisitamente lavorate, tutte grazia e bellezza.

    From one part to another, as you walk through the middle of the passage, there are monuments, tombs, sculptures, and works of art full of exquisite beauty and grace.

    Sono nuove, nivee; ogni lineamento è perfetto, ogni tratto esente da mutilazioni, imperfezioni o difetti; perciò, per noi, queste lunghissime file di incantevoli forme sono cento volte più belle della statuaria danneggiata e sudicia salvata dal naufragio dell'arte antica ed esposta nelle gallerie di Parigi per l'adorazione del mondo.

    Some are new, some not so new, but every single one is perfectly lined. Not even one of these sculptures has even one imperfection or defect. Perhaps we are so polluted in our minds that we are willing to wait on long lines for hours to view statues that are filthy and inferior in art galleries in Paris, where such inferior works are adorned by the entire world.

    That's not a word for word translation, but wasn't it Mark Twain who apologized when he sent a letter, saying that "sorry, if I had more time, I would have written a shorter note?" I basically just capsularized it.

    That quote comes from his book, "Innocents Abroad," long since out of copyright, about his first trip to Europe. It's serious, as per above, but so funny when he executes his humor that you need to hold a pillow on your side to avoid breaking a rib from laughing so hard.

    Not a lot has changed from his time, except that those sculptures that he describes as, "brilliant white" are now dark black due to accumulated dirt through lack of maintenance.

    The Italian government isn't going to do much to save Italy, although this year for the first time, they designated about 300 million euros to preserve historical sites. That's a pittance, while historic walls in Pompeii that withstood a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago fall down whenever there is harsh weather.

    You have a great cause, and you have made it very easy to donate, and I will do so. The only thing that will save Italy is people doing what you are doing.
  • Thank you for understanding the importance of this work.

    Here is the original Mark Twain quote:
    Quote:
    “... On either side, as one walks down the middle of the passage, are monuments, tombs, and sculptured 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; and therefore, to us these far-reaching ranks of bewitching forms are a hundred fold more lovely than the damaged and dingy statuary they have saved from the wreck of ancient art and set up in the galleries of Paris for the worship of the world.”
    And this quote is from Evelyn Waugh:
    Quote:
    “It is a museum of mid-nineteenth-century bourgeois art in the full, true sense, that the campo of Genoa stands supreme. If Pere Lachaise and the Albert Memorial were obliterated, the loss would be negligible as long as this great repository survives.”
    Our work has had a good effect on the city of Genoa- they are starting to wake up to this incredible repository of sculpture. Some of the city officials responsible for Staglieno have told me that our work has made it much easier for them to get the attention of the higher ups, and to shake loose some funding. In the past two or three years they've spend a few hundred thousand Euro repairing the leaking roofs and walls of the galleries, essential work to protect the masterpieces housed inside. Chunks of stone and plaster had started falling, in one case earlier this year decapitating a marble bust. They have also started giving paid guided tours over the past two years, and using the funds received to restore one sculpture each year.

    People rarely value the treasures in their own "back yard" until an outsider comes in and points out how special it is. We've been written up a number of times in Italian newspapers, and this spring I gave an interview on local radio that got good airplay. All of that helps...