As someone who has visited her fair share of cemeteries, several facts become apparent after a while. The first is that most statues in cemeteries tend to be copies. Within a particular cemetery you may see one or ten or even fifty copies (or near copies) of the same statue. I first realised this when visiting Kensal Green Cemetery in London – I was photographing an angel, debating whether I had already done so, and when I turned around I saw another angel just like it. From that point on I realised that I had been photographing the same angel for most of my afternoon there. And this is a lot more common than you might realise. The other fact, related to the first, is that custom-produced art can be exceptional in the hands of the right artist, and, in combination with the subject, can be so inspirational as to be reproduced all over the world. With that in mind, I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog, featuring and focusing first on various statues that I’ve come across in my travels (I hope to add more as time goes by – mausoleums, tombs, and other features as well). So to begin with, I will focus on one of my favourite copied statues of all time, the Resurrection Angel by Giulio Monteverde.
Also known as the Oneto Angel, it was commissioned for the Oneto family tomb at Staglieno Cemetery in Genova, Italy in 1882. This statue has been called the “Mona Lisa” of funerary art, as she has an enigmatic look that is hard to decipher. Unlike most angels that one comes across in a cemetery, she does not have the bland or beatific look that so often adorns their faces. Is she looking at someone? Somewhat annoyed or bored? Got something on her mind? I’ve noticed that looking at her face from different angles will give you a different perspective on her perceived emotion. Her face is framed by a magnificent set of curls, hair parted cleanly down the middle of her head, with a metal headband (a crown?) keeping the curls tamed down. I love the details here as well – the hair is so realistic, each individual ringlet unique against the others beside it.
In addition, the way she crosses her arms in front of her is somewhat unique. Again, most angels will have one of four poses: hands clasped in front of them, often with their heads pointing downwards; a hand held outwards, often holding a posey of flowers; one arm outstretched (usually up, but sometimes down), either pointing to the sky or with an open palm; or both arms outstretched and lifted to the sky. But not Monteverde’s angel: her arms are crossed in front of her, the right hand touching her shoulder, while the left arm is wrapped around her torso, the hand holding a trumpet at her side. This pose is also a bit enigmatic – it seems thoughtful, sensual, comforting, and provocative all at once. These crossed arms, more than any other feature, are for me, what triggers the recognition of a copy, as often the face, hair and wings will be much more varied in execution.
Like many Italian sculptures, this one features exquisite drapery of her robe, which clings to her body. This is not the sexless form of many an angel seen elsewhere. The twist of her body, with one hip jutting out and the other leg crossed in front, is atypical for an angel, and the clinging fabric even more so (you can just see the impression of a belly button, which shouldn’t exist on an angel, but it’s still there). The wings behind her, near symmetrical in shape, also serve to emphasise the shape of her body. The wings too, are so well done that I have yet to see another copy that can emulate their essence. The details and lines of the feathers either contrast or complement the curving lines of her robe. A final detail of the robe is its length: it’s quite long, draping below her feet. This fact, along with the realisation that this is a strapless garment, makes it almost seem like it is simple a piece of cloth wrapped around her, and not a tailored robe as one would assume.
This is a stunning work of art that isn’t in any museum, but in a cemetery. Two, specifically. The original in Staglieno, and the copy Monteverde made for his own family’s tomb. What I find interesting is that even Monteverde changed the details for his own copy – the details of the feathers in the wings are different, her face has a slightly different look, and even the hair has some minimal changes. But his copy of his own work is by far the best of what’s out there. The number of copies out there, however, is unknown. There are many copies (or echoes of a copy) that exist in cemeteries all over the world. The first one I came across was in Santa Monica, California, but I’ve seen many more since then. Even David Beckham has a tattoo of her on his shoulder. There’s a Facebook page entirely devoted to the copies of this angel that people have found on their cemetery explorations. Here are a few that I have found myself:
I’m so aware of this statue’s bearing – the wings, the hair, the arms – that if I get even the smallest sense of similarity of any of those features, I need to see for myself if it is a copy (and I’m often right). I’m sure as I visit more cemeteries I’ll come across more of these to add to my collection of images. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have come across any copies yourself.
Statue: Angelo della Resurrezione (Angel of the Resurrection)
Sculptor: Giulio Monteverde (1837-1917)
Date of provenance: 1882
Original location: Oneto family tomb, Staglieno Cemetery, Genova, Italy
Artist’s copy: Monteverde family tomb, Campo Verano, Rome, Italy