Thursday, June 23, 2005

Florence Conference on its English Cemetery, June 2004

In June 2004, together with the Gabinetto Vieusseux and in the Palazzo Strozzi at the same time as the Botticelli and Filippino Exhibition there, we had held an international conference on Florence's English Cemetery. Nic Peeters and Judy Oberhausen were participants. The papers can be read at etc.

Dear Julia,

I just want to say that Judy Oberhausen and I very much appreciate your work to preserve the ‘English Cemetery’.

The cemetery will always retain an aura of magic for me, because of the strange way that I first came to visit it. It was on a hot Saturday afternoon during the summer of 2003 and I was treating myself to a ramble around Florence after a rather fruitless search for evidence of the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s presence in Florence throughout the last decades of the 19th century. I arrived at the cemetery’s gate completely by coincidence and was immediately tempted to visit the famous tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Then I noticed a small sign on the gate saying that the cemetery was closed on Saturdays. For a reason that is still not completely clear to me, I whispered a little prayer to my favourite painter, Evelyn De Morgan, who was Spencer Stanhope’s niece. As by miracle the gate opened at once to let you and Assunta out. I asked if you could overlook the house-rules just for once and let me take a quick peek at EBB’s tomb. It was very close to EBB’s tomb that I then found the grave of Mary Spencer Stanhope, the painter’s young daughter, designed by himself: my first piece of strong artistic evidence of the artist’s presence in Florence!

The rest of the story you probably remember well. You invited me into your lovely library and after my head had stopped reeling I explained to you the wonderful discovery I had just made. Upon hearing this you asked me to deliver a paper on Mary’s tomb at the international conference you were organising. In June 2004 I gave this presentation together with my regular research/writing partner and pillar of strength Judy Oberhausen of San Mateo in California (another ‘coincidence’: this was where you had lived for years!).

Julia, we both wish you success with your campaign to save the ‘English Cemetery’, which is a treasure trough of information for art history scholars, and if there is anything we can do to support it, please do not hesitate to let us know.

Best wishes,

Nic Peeters

Art historian – Brussels University


Judy Oberhausen – Art historian, San Mateo, Ca. & Nic Peeters

Friday, June 10, 2005

Speech at the English Tea (without Mussolini!) in the 'English' Cemetery, Florence, 14 June 2005

We are gathered here today at an English Tea to celebrate a neglected Florentine international monument, the Swiss-owned so-called ‘English’ Cemetery. Its land was bought by the Chiesa Evangelica Svizzera, the Swiss Evangelical Church, from the Grand Duke in 1827, the same year that the Grand Duke agreed to fund Jean-François Champollion and Ippolito Rosselini's expedition to Egypt and to Nubia. Visit Florence's Archeological Museum to see what they brought back. In 1877, with the medieval wall and the Porta a’ Pinti torn down by Giuseppe Poggi, the Cemetery itself was re-landscaped into this oval, a gardener installed in this house, itself built in 1860. For a century and a quarter more the small Swiss church in Florence owned and cared for this ‘white elephant’. Five years ago they paid half a million euro towards the repair of the wall built originally by the Comune. Though they were given permission for the burial of ashes, such as Evgeni Polyakov's, the derelict state of the cemetery has not encouraged many such burials. Finally the Swiss committee said ‘enough’. It was recommended it be closed and abandoned.

But we had formed a cultural association, with the aid of Carlo Steinhauslin, first for our library and workshop, the Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei, and then to include the Friends of the Cemetery, now named Aureo Anello Associazione Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei e Amici del Cimitero ‘degli Inglesi’, ‘Aureo Anello’ being taken from the plaque on the Brownings’ home, Casa Guidi, in via Maggio, saying that Elizabeth Barrett Browning made of her poetry a golden ring between Italy and the English-speaking world. When the members of the Aureo Anello heard about the closure of the cemetery and the loss of the library and workshop they immediately responded. In particular, we need to restore this cemetery’s Victorian tombs and to landscape it back to the English garden it once had been. We have photographs of the Cemetery as it was with the medieval wall and gate still beside it, taken by Hiram Powers’ son, Longworth Powers, and recently discovered in the Gabinetto Vieusseux. We have Susan and Joanna Horner’s Walks in Florence telling us it was filled with fragrant flowers. With top soil to replace the present weed-killed earth we can again plant lavender and roses and myrtle and laurel and make pot-pourri to give to you.

For it was high time that we English lived up to our part of the name of this place (I was conceived at the League of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, and born at Devonshire Place, Marylebone, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived) and that we pay our debt of gratitude to this city that has inspired so many writers who are buried here, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walter Savage Landor, Arthur Hugh Clough, Fanny and Theodosia Trollope, Isa Blagden, and two Pre-Raphaelite artists who sculpted tombstones here, Holman Hunt’s for his wife Fanny who died in childbirth, and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s for his daughter Mary, both tombs besides Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s. Immediately the Browning Society, the Victoria Society, Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, and Timothy Wilson of the Ashmolean Museum lent their support. We seek to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nor should we forget that we have more than eighty Americans buried here, among them fine sculptors, and Consuls, Hiram Powers having been both, and preachers and writers against slavery, and Louisa, sister to Henry Adams. And we have many Russians, princes and serfs together, buried as Pushkin wrote under the sweet myrtle of Italy.

Many scripts and multiple languages are found here. Many children, many women who died in childbirth, and many friends of Florence Nightinagale lie here. Each tomb has a story to tell, which we have placed on the web, thereby gathering more stories from descendants and scholars world wide. We have the fine sculptures of ‘Speranza’ and ‘Fiducia in Dio’. And most poignantly of all, buried under a most beautiful Orthodox cross in Carrara marble with Cyrillic inscriptions on its base is Nadezda, who was brought here at fourteen, in the year of the Champollion, Rossellini Expedition, from Nubia, a black slave, baptised ‘Speranza’. We can again allow this Cemetery to flourish and be a place of freedom and hope and love and beauty - with your help.

We immediately need to replace the red and white plastic tape with wrought iron posts and chains, while regretting the current dangerous state of the Cemetery. Several tomb stones have fallen, one, of a Polish patriot, right by a group of schoolchildren, so we can no longer permit unaccompanied visitors to walk amongst the tombs. We have books, in particular the limited edition hand bound in marbled paper edition of Elizabeth's Sonnets and Ballad, CDs of Florence in Sepia and other items for sale to benefit the Cemetery, including Linda White Terzani’s Soul Traveller which she can autograph for you. Amalia Ciardi Dupré has re-created Harriet Hosmer’s famous ‘Clasped Hands’ of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning and we can take orders for these. Those of you representing countries of those buried here, Switzerland, America, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Denmark, Holland, Australia, could tell us which Foundations to approach for the restoration of their tombs. However, we cannot begin to collect funds for this historic landmark until the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera in Florence agree not to close and abandon it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

From Alison Chapman, Browning Circle in Florence scholar, Glasgow, Scotland:

Dear Julia,

I've been meaning to email you in thanks for the 'Florence in Sepia' CD, for which I'm very grateful. What a fabulous resource!

Your appeal about the Cemetery to the Victoria list deeply distressed me. The Cemetery must not be allowed to close. It is a wonderful momument to the vibrant culture of foreigners in Italy, and the artistic, literary and political importance of the 'golden ring' connecting Italy with Britain and other nations. For several years I've been researching the expatriate women poets known to the Brownings in Florence, and their important contributionboth to Risorgimento politics and the British poetical tradition. Two of the most interesting and talented women poets of the Brownings' circle, Theodosia Garrow Trollope and Isa Blagden, rest in the 'English Cemetery', and it would be a disgrace if the achievements they represent were forgotten. The Cemetery is a tribute to many talented men and women who imagined a future for Italy, and the Cemetery itself deserves to be respected and treasured, and given a secure future of its own.

I'm hoping, at Kitty Ledbetter's suggestion, that a presentation and appeal can be made at the Barrett Browning conference next Easter. In the meantime, please let me know if there is anything else I can do to support this worthy campaign.

With all good wishes

Dr Alison Chapman
Senior Lecturer
Department of English Literature
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ

From Michael Meredith, Browning Scholar, Librarian, Eton College, which co-owns the Brownings' Casa Guidi in Florence with Landmark Trust

Dear Julia,

I was appalled to hear of the impending closure of the English Cemetery, and welcome your initiative in taking action to keep it open. It is such an important cultural landmark in Florence that you deserve strong support.

I should be very happy to be on your Honour Committee, and, once you have decided what action to take, I should like to help in any way I can.

With all best wishes, Yours, As ever, Michael


Dear Ms Holloway,

I would like to thank you for your e-mail. I am pleased to transfer it to my colleagues in charge of World Heritage in Europe.

Thank you for your support to the World Heritage Convention.

Yours sincerely,

Nana Thiam

From America

Dear Sister--You're doing a great job in the effort to save the Cemetery. Lovers of English literature would find its loss beyond understanding. Thank you--S. Clemente

From America, again:

Dear Julia,

I wanted to express my support and gratitude for the work you and others are doing for the English Cemetery, which is so valuable on many levels. The site is not like any other, and contains a wealth of cultural and historical information that we cannot not lose.

Because I live as a historic site caretaker (in Connecticut), I understand how hard it is to address many different preservation/interpretation issues at once. Might I suggest that if the friends group finds funds to purchase basic landscaping equipment and supplies, one way to save money is to design a one- or two-week spring landscaping project for volunteers. Volunteer projects of this sort happen all over the world, and there are people out there who would love to spend a week working in the cemetery. Such a preservation project could include lectures and tours and participants might even be charged a nominal fee. There are many possibilities in this arena.

If you would like any assistance in arranging such a volunteer project, please let me know. I would love to help the English Cemetery, in whatever form I can. My Master's paper was on James Jackson Jarves, whose first wife lies in the English Cemetery (he himself lies in Rome). Florence's glorious 19th century history must not die!


Laura A. Macaluso

English Cemetery: Restoration Campaign

Dear Julia,
I have updated our record for the English Cemetery as per your request, and have also added a new record for the home page of the 'Florin' site as a whole. Good luck with the restoration campaign!
Yours Sincerely,
Dr. James A. J. Wilson
Humbul Humanities Hub
Oxford University Computing Services, University of Oxford, 13 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6NN

On Tuesday, 14 June, we shall hold an English Tea in Florence's 'English Cemetery' to launch its Emergency Appeal. We shall read the messages of support sent from interested persons.

Aureo Anello Associazione Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei e Amici del Cimitero ‘degli Inglesi’

We request the honour of your presence at an English Tea to be held in the Swiss-owned, so-called ‘English’ Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello, Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, from 6:00-7:00 p.m. * * * Siamo lieti di invitare la S.V. a un Tè all’inglese nel Cimitero Evangelico Svizzero, detto ‘degli Inglesi’, in Piazzale Donatello, martedì 14 giugno 2005, dalle ore 18.00 alle ore 19.00.

R.S.V.P. 055 582608

Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, 3/5/05, writes:

'The 'English' Cemetery in Florence is a kind of miniature, overseas Poets Corner, and deserves the most profound respect and veneneration. Like thousands of others, I bitterly regret the plans to abandon it, and wholeheartedly support the scheme to save and restore it. This is vital - for poetry in particular, and for civilized values in general.'

The Chairman, The Browning Society, Berry Chevasco, writes:

I do agree most wholeheartedly that the English Cemetery in Florence should not be closed without further consultation and without the careful consideration of other alternative sources of financing. I am sure that there would be widespread dismay amongst both academic specialists and general enthusiasts if such an important historical site were to close. I send the Browning Society's support for your efforts to at least delay this process until all concerned can consider possible solutions. . . . I feel sure that our membership would wish to join in your campaign in any way you feel could be useful.

With best wishes
Berry Chevascvo