Tuesday, March 28, 2006

BOOKS AND THE ENGLISH CEMETERY, EGYPTOLOGY AND THE 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY

Thank you everybody! We are now at 2042 signatures on our petition, in house, 1001, and web, 1041, to present to UNESCO, asking 'That the Swiss-owned, so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence be kept open, be restored and be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site'.

This Cemetery more and more becomes a living place. I was walking up its path with Assunta, realizing this as we went to check for the tombs of a Welsh couple, complete with bees and butterflies, amidst the tall purple flowering irises, for which see below. Then as we walked into the Cemetery a second time today to bring a just-arrived book to its tomb, a pleasing ritual we practice. In this case Henry Edward Napier, R.N.'s Florentine History from the Earliest Authentic Records to the Accession of Ferdinand the Third, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the first volume of six. We have now done this for so many of our tombs, Isa Blagden's Poems to her tomb, Fanny Trollope's numerous books to hers, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh complete with portrait to hers, Arthur Hugh Clough's books to his, Walter Savage Landor's Imaginary Conversations to his, Mary Young's study of Aonio Paleario, Theodore Parker's biography, books on Hiram Powers' sculpture and on that of Joel Hart to theirs. We read the books' title pages and the tomb inscriptions out aloud, combining our library and this Cemetery. We are profoundly grateful to all the donors of these books, many of them fine first editions, which you can see exhibited here when you visit us. (By the way, if anyone has a spare copy of Dearest Isa, the letters of Robert Browning to Isa Blagden, we should be most grateful.)



The tombs by these irises which are Florence's famous lilies after which she is named 'Florentia', are by the tombs of the historian Robert Davidsohn and that of the Trollope's faithful maid, Elizabeth Shinner.

A further book is Ippolito Rosellini's on the Expedition to Egypt and Nubia he made with Jean-Fran├žois Champollion. We have now met twice with Florence's Archeological Museum, in particular with their Egyptian expert, and will hold in September 'Il loto e il giglio nel Cimitero degli Inglesi'. This because of the importance of the 'English' Cemetery as charting the Victorian obsession with Egyptology in Florence. Champollion and Rosellini made their Expedition, funded by Napoleon and the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, to Nubia and Egypt in 1828. Our Nadezhda's tomb states that this black Nubian woman came to Florence in 1827, when she would have been 14. So we decided to do a study of the Egyptian motifs in this cemetery inspired by Rosellini's book on Champollion's discoveries. And we should begin with the two columns on either side of the arch of the Gatehouse. These are closed lotus or blue lily flowers. Egyptians believed that the new life would be the open lily and portrayed capitals like them. Our two capitals instead signify death, closure. Arnold Boecklin's painting 'The Island of the Dead' evokes their symmetry.
As we enter we see many tombs, especially of the Rosellini period, filled with such motifs as winged globes or sand-glasses or the ourobouros or the bee, symbols for life's brevity, eternity, royalty, as well as butterflies for the soul from Apuleius' Golden Ass. In particular, the tomb of Arthur Hugh Clough, at his wife and sister's requests, includes the winged globe, taken from Champollion's book, borrowed for this purpose by Susan Horner from Count Torrigiani. We have tombs shaped like Egyptian obelisks, tombs shaped like Egyptian pyramids.
I found myself saying to Assunta amongst our purple blooming irises, which are Florence's lily, that this is one of the nodal places of this world, that we need, like the Aborigines and the Chinese, to honour the ancestors to have good lives ourselves, and remarking how intense this place is with meaning, with meanings, a world treasure.
Tomorrow am speaking on this cemetery at the UNESCO/ASCE (Association for Significant Cemeteries in Europe) in Modena. Will give them the-by-then 2000 signatures of our petition. Not one but two thousand thanks! And we shall have our Fondazione Cimitero Porta a' Pinti detto 'degli Inglesi' within a month.



If you wish to donate to the Aureo Anello Association for the Elizabeth Barrett Browning tomb restoration you can do so by a cheque made out to 'Aureo Anello' and posted to 'English' Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello 38, 50132 Florence, Italy; or through the Pay Pal 'Donate' button below, which can also be used to purchase CDs, hand-bound limited edition books and sculptures of Elizabeth and Robert's 'Clasped Hands':