Friday, January 13, 2006


Because the Swiss owners consider closing and abandoning the 'English' Cemetery in Florence if it cannot become economically viable, to save this library and archive of history written in marble in which we all share we have created a petition at,
'That the Swiss-owned, so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence be kept open, be restored and be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site' / 'Che il Cimitero 'degli Inglesi' a Firenze di proprietà Svizzera possa ancora essere visitabile, sia restaurato e sia dichiarato dall'UNESCO Patrimonio Mondiale dell'Umanità'

Dear Aureo Anello Member, Friend of the 'English' Cemetery in Florence, and Interested Others,

Lord Leighton's Florentine Lily,
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Tomb

Good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Swiss owners still want to close and abandon the so-called 'English' Cemetery. We have not succeeded in raising the 3000 euro for the restoration work of the tomb for Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Frederic Lord Leighton, apart from 300 euro from a Moulton-Barrett descendant. A great world monument, EBB's tomb, within a great world monument, the 'English' Cemetery in Florence, are both still at risk.

Beside EBB's tomb is that sculpted by Holman Hunt in Fiesole for his wife Fanny who had died in Florence following childbirth.

Here we see where acid has entered the marble turning it into plaster of paris so it is crumbling away. This process can be reversed if we can raise the funds speedily enough for this work.

Lord Leighton has on the third harp at the back of the tomb a broken slave shackle expressive of EBB's passionate hatred of slavery (she was herself the child of a Jamaican slave owner). Many persons buried in this cemetery similarly worked against slavery, including Theodore Parker and Richard Hildreth, their tombs visited by Frederick Douglass, while buried near EBB and Hiram Powers, beneath an Orthodox cross in marble with her story in Cyrillic, is the tomb of Nadezhda, a black Nubian slave who came to Florence at 14 in Champollion and Rosselini's 1828 Expedition.

Lord Leighton studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, one of his teachers being Hiram Powers, an American sculptor buried in this 'English' Cemetery. Leighton won fame first from a huge canvas he painted at 24 of the Procession of Cimabue's Madonna from Borgo Allegri to Santa Maria Novella, which Elizabeth Barrett Browning had already described in poetry in her Casa Guidi Windows, the painting being purchased by Queen Victoria. Leighton was to be President of England's Royal Academy of Art. His sister, Mrs Alexandra Orr Sutherland, became Browning's biographer and the editor of his letters. We are in the process of acquiring copies of Leighton's drawings for this tomb for the Cemetery's library and archive, as well as having acquired significant holdings concerning the writers and artists, poets and sculptors, buried here, through the great generosity of Aureo Anello members.

Hiram Powers' Greek Slave, which was the centrepiece on a turning pedestal at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, whose head is modeled on the Greek wife of the painter Giorgio Mignaty who painted Casa Guidi at Browning's request as it was when EBB died.

While the studio, where Michele Gordigiani's descendants still live, and where he painted the portraits of the Brownings now in the National Portrait Gallery, is across the street from the tombs of the two Mignaty children.

In Italian we speak of such things being 'intrecciate', 'woven together', 'knit together'. This is so much the case with this 'English' Cemetery in Florence where Americans and English came together in a burst of creativity at the time of Italy's Risorgimento. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Miriam in The Marble Faun is a composite of Isa Blagden and Theodosia Garrow Trollope, EBB's friends, both buried here near her, both exotically part East Indian, part Jewish. Though Mrs Walter Savage Landor had herself sculpted in despair on her son Arnold's tomb, her back turned from her husband's burial place, so much of the Cemetery celebrates Hope: in Nadezhda's name, which is 'Speranza' in Italian; in the sculptures of women with anchors, for the pun on 'ancora speme'; in this dream the nineteenth century had of the freeing of nations, Greece, Italy; of slaves, in the British Empire, in America; of the liberation of women and children from bondage, from working in mines and mills. Do we obey Dante's infernal gate's message, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here', 'Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate', or turn this around into Dante's paradisal joy of a new Florence, peopled, as is this Cemetery, with angels with our Cemetery's view of the dome of of Santa Maria del Fiore?

Sir Franco Zeffirelli had telephoned the Mayor of Florence in August asking that the 'English' Cemetery be saved. And the city of Florence immediately responded, saying this treasure must be saved. Florentines, who used to shun us, now speak of this place as an abandoned 'jewel', 'un gioiello', and for the first time are coming in flocks to visit us, complaining rightly about its neglect and disrepair, delighting in its beauty. Foreigners from all over the world have always steadily visited us since we have been keeping it open to the public.

However, we very much need to raise 3000 euro to save Lord Leighton's tomb for Elizabeth Barrett Browning as its Carrara marble is crumbling into gesso, this being Alberto Casciani's estimate for the work. It is a Florentine and world treasure and should only be restored by the expert most recommended by Florence's Opificio delle Pietre Dure. We shall also ask that he restore the tombstones of Walter Savage Landor, Arthur Hugh Clough, Fanny and Theodosia Trollope. He can begin work in the Spring if we raise the funds.

Initially we had hoped to have a charitable foundation set up in England for the purpose of raising these funds and we delayed outright requests so that they could be made by it. Instead, we have now formed a committee here in Florence for the 'English' Cemetery Emergency Appeal, with Signor Gerardo Kraft, President of the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church which owns the so-called 'English' Cemetery and who is the former Swiss Consul, Clive Britton, who is the Anglo-Florentine concert pianist and Artistic Director of Asolo's Norbert Brainin Foundation, and myself, President of the Aureo Anello Associazione Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei e Amici del Cimitero degli Inglesi. We invite an American participant on this Emergency Appeal Committee as many of our damaged tombs still needing repair because their fallen slabs are too heavy to lift without a crane are of American burials.

Our petition both here in the Cemetery and on the web, that the Cemetery be kept open, be restored and be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is coming close to 2000 signatures from persons all over the world.

We thank all of you who have contributed to Aureo Anello, enabling the Victorian curving hand rails to our steps where before there were none, and the paint with which we restored the formerly rusting wrought iron gates of the Cemetery. We also invite you to consider arranging for the ashes of family members to be buried here as there are 500 places designated for these and this decision will enable the Swiss-owned 'English' Cemetery to become self-sustaining as a living museum for generations. It is our dream to landscape this oval island with its hill as it had been in the nineteenth century, with roses trained on the children's tombs' wrought iron arches, with wild strawberries, myrtle, lavender, irises and oleanders, beneath its tall cypresses.

Yours sincerely,

Julia Bolton Holloway, Professor Emerita
Director, Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei
'English Cemetery', Piazzale Donatello, 38
50132 Florence, Italy

If you wish to deposit directly into the Emergency Appeal Fund you can do so at the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Ag. 30, Viale Petrarca, Firenze, for the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera-Restauro Beni account 849 00 066666, ABI 6160, CAB 2839, Coordinate bancarie B 06160 02839 000066666C00, IBAN IT85B0616002839000066666C00, Swift CRFI IT 3F

Or to Aureo Anello: by cheque made out to 'Aureo Anello' and posted to 'English' Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello 38, 50132 Florence, Italy; or through Pay Pal: