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A Cemetery in Limbo

In response to:

The Art of the Dead from the February 23, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

A couple of items related to Italian cemetery statuary:

James Fenton rues that Sandra Berresford’s book [Italian Memorial Sculpture, 1820–1940: A Legacy of Love, reviewed in “The Art of the Dead,” NYR, February 23] wants for more distinguished photography. Alas, that would indicate that neither of them was aware of a particularly distinguished body of photographs made in Genoa’s Staglieno Cemetery. They are those of Lee Friedlander, whose wife is of Ligurian ancestry. Nazraeli Press has published an elegant book of a selection of this work.

When I was a fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation three years ago (its property borders on Genoa’s city limit) we entertained a guest for dinner who happened to be the region’s historical preservation administrator. I had just that week spent a day in Staglieno and referred to the time-compromised status of so many of the memorials. She in turn agreed that there was indeed a monumental amount of work waiting to be tackled.

But, she went on, all this decaying cultural richness was in a legal limbo, and she, thereby, in a pickle—any and all possible remedification was in stasis.

The rub: though the ownership of a large percentage of the statuary has become nebulous, untraceable, and no longer verifiable, as the original families have become diffuse, attenuated, and/or emigrated to Argentina and the US, the monuments are all still considered to be under private ownership. Thus, a public agency such as the one she headed was legally bound not to expend any governmental funds for their repair, restoration, and refurbishment.

Stuart Klipper

Minneapolis, Minnesota