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Death in Pisa: The Camposanto Statuary

Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy

Part 12: Death in Pisa, The Camposanto Statuary

In this the third and final installment of Death in Pisa it’s time we turned attention to the assortment of statuary that in my opinion brought the whole Camposanto experience to life, quite literally, for unlike the gravestones and sarcophagi of the previous two posts this time around we actually get to meet the occupants… face to face.

So far we have peered at the medieval gravestones and the Ancient Roman sarcophagi, but for a variety of reasons including fire damage, vandalism, the ravages of time, and who knows what else, we have actually seen very little of the folks who actually reside in the graves and tombs that fill every corner of the Camposanto. But all this is about to change, this time around we are to get a close up and personal view of the occupants and peer not only into their earthly reality but presumably the afterlife they had planned for themselves once their mortal remains had expired.

‘Something special’ is definitely how I would describe the sculpture you are about to see. Clearly money was no object. Even more clear are the technical and artistic skills on display of the sculptors who’s work is, in my view, quite unsurpassed… exquisite in fact. “Sublime”.

So here we go: we’ve seen how the Romans viewed the afterlife; peered down at medieval gravestones in order to take their view of things, and now it’s the turn, by and large, of the Victorians. Let’s take a look at this cross-section of wealthy aristocrats and see how they chose to make their one last final statement.

Let’s begin with this guy:


Wafer thin lips betray a steely hardness. This man will clearly do whatever he has to do in order to get the job done, right?

Right! Just look at that club. Clearly not the man to be messed with. A club entwined a with a snake for god’s sake. And what about those eyes? Hard as steel I imagine.

This piece I found particularly fascinating. It seems innocent enough at first glance, but close examination reveals a dynamic tension wherein danger is seen to lurk in every corner. Firstly there is the fierce eye contact. I maybe wrong but there would appear to be little love lost between this couple. Then there is the scary bird… a beaky pecky bird at that, not a nice turtle dove. Furthermore this stork, the traditional bringer of life, seems to be clutching a rock in its left talon. And finally this beautiful young woman appears to be clutching a wreath of flowers in one hand, and a dagger in the other. Did she fail to deliver on her obligation to produce an heir. And did the beauty ultimately destroy the beast as a result?

Here we find another quandary – just what is all this about? We have music in the form of a lyre, a totally nude boy with wings, the master… and who’s this peeking from below – the wife perhaps? A wicked caricature it may be but to the spender go the spoils. Did this chap’s wife object to her husband’s nocturnal hobby? I only ask this because, well, what exactly am I supposed to think? What do you think?

Now here’s a sad one – just solid unremitting grief. No wild statement, no conflicting imagery, just the pain, sorrow and anguish of loss… loss that all of us have endured at some point in our lives. Why? Why did he, she or they have to go? But I mean, just look at the gossamer thin nature of the robes, literally clinging to the skin below.  Quite a masterful display of stone carving by anyone’s standard.

Here’s a complex piece indeed; complex in design and complex in execution – clearly no holes were bared when it came to the budget. The grief, pain and suffering are plain for all to see, but what of the maiden in the miniature bath?

I think there can be little doubt we are talking 19th Century Military Man of Steel here. The sort of man who clearly was not to be messed with, who wouldn’t flinch at trifling casualty lists so long as the objective was gained. But what I found quite telling was the medal he seems to have chosen to promote outside his braided band – surely he didn’t award himself his very own medal? Perish the thought.

And now for perhaps my favorite of them all.  Whoever modeled for this I swear I have witnessed her like not only in Pisa but over in neighboring Lucca.  All I can say is that in terms of poses, she presented herself in a league of her own.  But as for her relationship, if any with the spiffy gentleman circled in the bas relief, well I guess we will never know.

Now, here’s a man who seems to know how to spend eternity – reclined in his best satin pajamas reading a book – no dewy-eyed  nymph for him… way too much trouble. Just the endless bliss of unlimited reading in the quiet solitude of his obelisk-lined library.

Unfortunately this magnificent spectacle was positioned so high in the wall that much of the intimacy was lost, but all the same I loved the epic scope of the thing.  However, our Venus, Aphrodite, or whomever doesn’t seem in the least bit amused, in fact she looks a little peeved at her patron’s rude lack of attention; and as for the cherubs, well they seem to have fallen asleep, poor things, and poor guy – and it all looked so darn good in the drawings!

Now here’s a chap we’ve all bumped into before…

…and this one – earnest but somehow a tad too sincere, perhaps?

But who exactly is this? If I didn’t know better I would assume she was attempting to impersonate a postage stamp. But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and put it down to the fact that perhaps she had simply succumbed to one too many Jane Austin novels. However, whatever her motivation she certainly assembled quite an impressive ‘fond adieu’ with her parting gesture to the world she was about to leave behind:

Which leaves us with one last extraordinary example of Victorian excess in the form of this beautiful monument to sculptural prowess, visionary foresight, and outright indulgence:

To be honest I am quite in awe of this piece – the deft touch with the sandals, and those toes… oh those exquisite toes, complete with seemingly painted toenails – surely this is the work of Gods!





Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy

Part 12: Death in Pisa, The Camposanto Statuary

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Camposanto Statuary In Pictures / click here

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