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Cimitero di Staglieno-The Beauty of Life Captured for the Dead

Updated on August 18, 2011

Cimitero di Staglieno- The Beauty of Life Captured for the Dead

Some would say the place of the dead could never render any beauty. This might be true unless one travelled to Northern Italy. The Cimitero di Staglieno is a cemetery in Genoa, Italy. It is a place where art captures the essence of the human spirit and beauty. When one walks through such rare creations they realize the marriage of life and death. The medium is the stone carvings where some artist poured his inspiration into an inanimate element. What is born is a life-like mourning monument honoring the dead. What happens though is much more significant for without this art and the awe it inspires, we are no different than our fellow animals that may or may not mourn the dead and then forget.

Humans are separated from the rest of the animal kingdom because we erect art to honor the dead, to feed our spirit and to go beyond instinct into the unknown mystery. It is essential that we walk into the land of the dead and do not forget. The artist is an essential element to our humanity for he or she is our guide to becoming more and not letting death conquer us. For if there is some artwork that points to a human life after our death and it inspires someone we have embraced creation not death.

Eternity isn't some later time. Eternity isn't a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. There's a wonderful formula that the Buddhists have for the Bodhisattva, the one whose being (sattva) is illumination (bodhi), who realizes his identity with eternity and at the same time his participation in time. And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it. "All life is sorrowful" is the first Buddhist saying, and it is. It wouldn't be life if there were not temporality involved which is sorrow. Loss, loss, loss.” Joseph Campbell

If we realize that life is difficult but do not let this sorrow eat us up, then we open our hearts to wonder. I felt this wonder in Genoa. How could an artist capture such human essence and transform it into a stone structure. I was hit by awe and thus the mystery happened when I was walking in such a sorrowful place. I cut roses, a beautiful living thing to give back to the stone-dead. This is a mystery that feeds something in our humanity, to give life to death even after death takes life. It is simply a circle and depending how deep you think about it will give you an answer on how you view life.

Humans measure humanity by certain rituals. Anthropologist have determined human's evolution according to how we treat our dead. The discovery of ancient graves, where the people of the time buried their dead in special positions or sent special items with them gives an idea of how advanced a civilization was. The greatest wonders and mysteries of the world are the Pyramids the tombs for the dead. We cannot let death or the dead keep us from our beauty or our ability to embrace both life and death together in the form of art and rituals.

Cimitero di Staglieno is a perfect mixture of death and life. “Designed by the famous Genovese architect Carlo Barabino in a Neo-Classical style, the Stagieno Cemetery opened in 1851. A compromise between the formality of the traditional orderly camposanto layout and the newly fashionable wilderness style of bocshetto irregulare, seen in Pere Lachaise, the grounds included cloisters, garden paths, and a reproduction of the famous Parthenon in Rome.” (

This cemetery is built on a mountain in the outskirts of city of Genoa. The hills are steep like San Francisco, California where both cities rise up out of the sea. The monuments are woven into the landscape in a wonderful mixture of Mediterranean foliage and foot paths that could take you two days to enjoy.

As a child born in the far west I have never been exposed to art. The Italians do not even know what they have until they live in a place desolate or void of art, like the Western states of USA. As I walked through each hidden pathway with ivy stringing down off the side of tombs, I was awe struck at the architecture and devotion to art. I felt as if I was having an overdose of heroine. (I don’t really know what that is like, but I have a good imagination and seen a lot of Hollywood movies.) Symbols and crosses abounded. The crosses and religious monuments are not the majority here. It is surprising to be in the middle of a Catholic country and not have the majority of statues be of Jesus. I think this is what drew me in. It was the angels at first. But it was like the artist used human subjects and then put wings on them. This is an enigma about Italy. You have the highly organized religion but then you have the extremely gifted artist, musicians and minds. It is almost as if there is a battle going on. For every church there is some great piece of artwork, invention or discovery by some brilliant Italian. It is never black and white. History shows that the great painters were summons by the church to paint god and or religious art at every church. It is typical of Italian life. I spent two days drinking in this place where I did not deny life in any shape or form, here I was embracing life and death, and I was experiencing truth.

La Donne

The really impressive thing to me personally was the respectful sensuality depicted in the female stone sculptures. I think there are more females present than males in this cemetery. I would never of guessed this fact in a million years. What does this mean? Maybe since females bring life into this world, it would be only natural that the female figure be present as they exit this life. There is wide variety of women. It is not just perfect angels with slim Hollywood or Vogue bodies. The women are old with traditional dress. There are young mourning girls and angels. There are full bodied half- naked women who convey such beauty that you get lost in their gaze and sometimes you want to know them. The nakedness is not vulgar in any way. As a slightly Methodist/Protestant (never went to these churches yet this is still the cultural influence of my parents) yet highly liberal American – who does not experience the sensuality of Milan or Paris-not by choice- I can honestly say that their is only beauty experienced when witnessing these stone monuments .

What Art Does

“Artists have an important role to play in creating a more sustainable society and empowering their communities. Their images and actions can stimulate changes in consciousness and behavior. Free and diverse artistic expressions are vital for challenging people to rethink their assumptions and for educating people about their past, present issues, and future visions.” Joseph Campbell

The Italians know art so well that it is infused into their culture as food, music, architecture and sculptures. My husband is a chef and his food is art. The funny thing is that he would not consider himself an artist. Many Italians who live in Genoa have these pieces of artwork in their backyard and they don’t go because they think of only death when they think of the Cimitero di Staglieno. It is ironic. I have my sister-in-law who is buried there. I bought her roses but could not find her crematory grave, but I did not let that stop me. I believe that it is good to have a place to put roses, but I requested her presence in a different way. I do not know if she was with me that day or not, but I left roses at every angel or statue that moved me. These angels reminded me of her and I hope that she knows that I put them there to honor her. This place satisfied a need in me to honor those that I have lost. And it serves many Italians that need a place to go specifically to honor those they have lost. I have only my art when I am not in Italy. I have the virtual world to honor my father and the poems I write so that I do not forget him. We all need some way to deal with our grief, to understand what death means to this life. When I gazed at these sorrowful monuments I knew that I was not alone in my suffering, and that to erect something in honor of those gone is not a wasteful act. Life and death is a marriage of opposites. Without death we would not value life. The artist is a necessary element to our humanity.

It is a strange thing to go to a city in search of a cemetery but I highly recommend a day in Genoa, Italy to wander around the beauty that sits behind a modern city. It is a treasure that you will never forget.


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    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Very wonderful hub! Beautiful art!

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      8 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Such masterful art is something even in a museum one can never really appreciate.

      Brother Dave.


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