Tuesday, March 28, 2006


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-François 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':

Saturday, March 25, 2006


We are now at 971 signatures on the web at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/471134975,
'That the Swiss-owned, so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence be kept open, be restored and be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site', and with 981 signatures in-house from our visitors, a total of 1952 signatures. Keep them coming!

I urge you to look at the discussion between Robyn Williams and Dr Jim Leavesley of Margaret River, Australia, on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tuberculosis of the spine and lungs. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1582151.htm

Today, March 25, Florence celebrates its New Year, Dante and others believing that date is the date of the Creation of the World, the Annunciation to Mary and the Crucifixion of Christ, Dante using it for that reason for the dating of his Commedia. So today we gathered in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's favourite Florentine church, the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata in the square of that name beside the Ospedale degli Innocenti with its Della Robbia babies in swaddling bands, with the great silken lilied banner of the Comune, and their trumpeters blowing fanfares, all garbed in Michelangelo's red and white Renaissance garb. Incense, the pontifical Mass, mothers holding their daughters, fathers carrying their sons, all Florence was there. and at its Fair in the Piazza where one can buy local pottery and the 'brigidini' sweets once made by the Brigittine nuns at the Paradiso convent before it was suppressed. I write about the Santissima Annunziata and EBB at http://www.florin.ms/ebbflor2.html. There are two celebrated Marian images at the Santissima, the first of Mary with the Angel at the Annunciation, begun by a monk, finished by an angel, all enshrined in silver,

the second of the Madonna Addolorata which Elizabeth uses so powerfully in Aurora Leigh and which I give here in a watercolour by the young English artist, Jamie Rotherham, who for a time was painting in the same cloister as had Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Sarto.

The day before I telephoned Florence's top stone restorer to begin the process of restoring Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb, a fitting way to begin Florence's New Year! He is at this time restoring Pen's villa La Torre in Antella. Now we must raise the funds for him to conserve the tombs of her circle of friends also in this 'English' Cemetery in the heart of Florence within sight of the Duomo's great dome, Walter Savage Landor, Fanny and Theodosia Trollope, Arthur Hugh Clough, Isa Blagden, Hiram Powers. We hear that the Friends of Casa Guidi at the same time are having the tombs of Pen and Sarianne Browning in the newer Swiss Cemetery at the Allori outside of Florence restored as well. We shall also be raising the funds, from individuals and from organizations, to restore this eroding hill and to landscape it as it had been in the nineteenth century, with roses, myrtle, lavender, Florence's purple irises that are her lily, and wild strawberries - which can also be given in kind. Imagine driving from England by way of Provence and buying their lavender plants, the very deep fragrant purple ones, for this piazzale in Florence. Recall, too, that in having one's ashes buried here, which is allowed now to all, will enable the 'English' Cemetery's restoration and continuation, as well as that of its Library on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her circle.

Also, before we cycled off to the Santissima, Romano Romoli telephoned me from the Casa dei Tessuti in via dei Pecori by the Duomo and Giotto's Bell Tower. Would I bring over images and books of Elizabeth Barrett Browning for his window, just as I had earlier brought over books from this library on Brunetto Latino and Dante Alighieri. Thus we are turning shops into Florentine museums - since the Florentine museums have turned into shops! Let me invite you into his shop for it is a marvel, gorgeous stuffs, a seven-hundred year old wooden loom from Siena for weaving silk and gold cloth and so much else and where you can really hear the Tuscan Italian that Dante and Elizabeth knew, http://www.florin.ms/casatessuti.html. Which we have now done with our 'Clasped Hands' by Amalia Ciardi Duprè and our handbound limited edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets and Ballad. And my apologies for having Romano Romoli's stockinged feet in the picture:

This is excellent preparation, right in the heart of the city, for our Florentine celebration of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 200th Anniversary that we shall hold on July 5 with a visit to Casa Guidi, a lecture at the Harold Acton Library of the British Institute, overlooking the Arno (which Elizabeth describes as a silver arrow shooting its way through the city),

and a visit to the English Cemetery. She so belongs to this city, linking with a golden ring her language and theirs, English and Italian.

EBB, Michele Gordigiani, 1858

The following associations and individuals are on the Honour Committee of the Emergency Appeal for the restoration of the Swiss-owned 'Cimitero Porta a' Pinti', known as the 'English' Cemetery in Florence:

Sir James Ackroyd, England
Alliance of Literary Societies, England
Amici dei Musei Fiorentini, Florence
Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, America
Anthony Astbury, The Greville Press, England
Association for Gravestone Studies, America
Association for Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE)
Jeffrey Begeal, America
Clive Britton, Florence
The Brontë Society, England
The Browning Society, England
Dame Fiona Caldicott, Somerville College, Oxford, England
Carolyn Carpenter, America
Diane Lutz Chaplin, Florence
Timothy Chaplin, Florence
Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera, Florence
Amalia Ciardi Dupré, Florence
Luciana Cuppo Csaki
Leonardo Domenici, Sindaco, Comune di Firenze, Florence
Dame Judi Dench, England
Juliana Dresvina, England/Russia
The English-Speaking Union, America
Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Florence
Joan Freed, Canada
Gabinetto Vieusseux ‘Centro Romantico’, Florence
Bernardo Francesco Gianni, O.S.B. Oliv., Florence
Horace W. Gibson, Florence
The Hawthorne Society, America
Philip Henderson, Lucca
Maire Herbert, Ireland
Robert Heylmun, Florence
Historic Gardens Foundation, England
Julia Bolton Holloway, Florence
Peter Auldjo Jamieson, England
Gerardo Kraft, Florence
The Landor Society, England
Denis Looney, America
Moira Macfarlane, British Consul General, Florence
Lapo Mazzei, Firenze
Michael Meredith, Eton College, England
Tony Moulton Barrett, England
Sir Derek Morris, Provost, Oriel College, England
Priscilla Morss Bayard, Florence
Henry Moss-Blundell
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, England
PatrimonioSOS, Italy
Pre-Raphaelite Society, England
Giuliano and Virginia Prezzolini, Florence
Giannozzo Pucci, Florence
Luigi di Quintana Bellini Trinchi Principe di Cagnano, Rome
Regione Toscana, Florence
Robert J. Robertson, America
Romano Romoli, Florence
Jack Sewell, England
Tom Sewell, England
Salvatore Siano, 'Nello Carrara', CNR, Florence
Simone Siliani, Assessore alla Cultura, Comune di Firenze, Florence
St Mark's English Church, Florence
Carlo Steinhauslin, Florence
Sir Roy Strong, England
Mikhail Talalay, Russian Academy of Science, Naples
Aeronwy Thomas, England
Dylan Thomas Society of Great Britain
The Trollope Society, America
The Trollope Society, England
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Victoria Discussion List, Worldwide
The Victorian Society, England
Waterloo Committee, Patron, Duke of Wellington, England
Anthony and Diana Webb, England
Donald Williamson, America
Mary Williamson, America
Timothy Wilson, Ashmolean Museum, England
Sir Franco Zeffirelli, Italy
Mariella Zoppi, Assessore alla Cultura, Regione Toscana, Florence

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 http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/471134975,
'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'

If you wish to donate to the Aureo Anello Association towards saving the 'English' Cemetery in Florence you can 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':

Saturday, March 18, 2006


We have just celebrated Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 200th anniversary, 6 March 1806. In America, Stephen Prickett and Alison Chapman had organized the Armstrong Browning Library's International Conference, 'This is Living Art' on Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In Florence we will celebrate her with a visit to Casa Guidi, a lecture at the British Institute and an event in the 'English' Cemetery. In England there is the exhibition at the British Library, an event will be held in Malvern, and a plaque will be placed at St Marylebone Church in her honour.

I spoke at the Armstrong Browning Library, Waco, Texas, on her burial here in the 'English' Cemetery in Florence and about her now crumbling but very beautiful tomb designed by Lord Leighton. She was only fifty-five, having eloped from Wimpole Street from her Jamaican slave-owning father at forty to marry Robert Browning whose family came from a similar background from St Kitts. During those fifteen years of courtship and marriage, she wrote the Love Letters their son would later publish, the Sonnets from the Portuguese, 'The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point', Casa Guidi Windows I and II, Aurora Leigh, the sonnet on Hiram Powers' Greek Slave, and Poems Before Congress, which Robert would publish. She had already, in Lady Geraldine's Courtship, prophesied that courtship before even meeting Robert Browning.

If you look carefully at the aerial map of the 'English' Cemetery you can see her tomb at its very centre. Those who visit it see also Florence's Duomo, at present shrouded in scaffolding.

There is something odd about the burial records and about the tomb. We know that Robert gave orders that she be dug up and re-interred in the more showy place from a letter he wrote to Isa Blagden and from the recorded double payment to the Cemetery's gravedigger. Though he never returned to Florence or to his wife's grave. The burial records mistakenly give her date as '45', not the true '55'. The tomb only gives her death date of 1861. She was older than Robert but kept this secret. Likewise, the tomb failed to give her name, only presenting her initials; it failed to give her portrait, substituting for it an idealized figure of Poetry; nor does it give anything of her poetry or of Robert's. Frederic Leighton's design was carried out by Luigi Giovannozzi who also participated in the tomb for the Duchess of Albany erected in Santa Croce. At the conference in Waco I showed that Leighton himself had wanted her portrait medallion on the tomb, and had originally designed it with framed spaces for inscriptions. He shaped it not as a classical sarcophagus but instead as like a medieval saint's tomb, on columns with space underneath for pilgrims to come for healing, as with Edward the Confessor's tomb in Westminster Abbey. He placed on three of its sides harps, one Greek with the masks of Tragedy and Comedy, one Hebrew with a broken slave shackle expressive of EBB's passionate hatred of slavery, and one Christian, with a cross.

Near her tomb are those of Hiram Powers, who sculpted 'The Greek Slave' and of Nadezhda, the Black Nubian slave brought to Florence, likely in the Champollion and Rosselini Expedition funded by Napoleon and the Grand Duke Leopold, her story told in Cyrillic on its base. Also here are the tombs of Theodore Parker and Richard Hildreth who preached and wrote passionately against slavery in America. While those of Isa Blagden and Theodosia Trollope are nearby, themselves past East Indian, part Jewish, and the models for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Miriam in the Marble Faun.

Sadly, during these celebrations her tomb itself has been forgotten and is being allowed to crumble away.

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. We failed initially to raise the 3000 euro necessary to restore it. A similar sum is being spent on a new bronze plaque to Elizabeth in St Marylebone Church, as is just, for previously there was only a plaque to Robert, not her. Similarly Casa Guidi has only a bust to Robert, not to Elizabeth, in its lobby. Even the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery in which her tomb is placed, along with those of Walter Savage Landor, Arthur Hugh Clough, Isa Blagden, Fanny and Theodosia Trollope, Hiram Powers, Theodore Parker and many others, with tomb sculptures by Lord Leighton, William Holman Hunt, Félicie de Fauveau and others, a pantheon abroad of great English writers and artists, is at risk of closure, abandonment, and vandalism for lack of funds for its restoration. This is not likely to be the case with Robert's resting place, Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner!

We also urge your signing the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/471134975,
to have the Cemetery remain open, to be restored and to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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':