Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sacred Italian Waxworks or The Last Judgement with Real Corpses, 18th and 19th Century Italy

Doing research for my upcoming book on the Anatomical Venus, I came across the following choice tidbit in the excellent Waxing Eloquent: Italian Portraits in Wax (on which more here).

Italy, it explains, never developed a tradition of wax museums as we think of them; instead, it enjoyed a flowering of often macabre sacred waxworks located in confraternities devoted to caring for the dead. It continues:
Despite Italy’s lack of wax museums,the country can claim a pre-eminent role ... of transferring the profane popular amusements of such displays to pious representations that, for more than a century, attracted the devout and curious alike. They were set up by the various confraternities devoted to burying the poor and bodies that had been abandoned in the countryside… The oldest was the archconfraternity of Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte… to enhance the solemnity of the octave of the dead in November, the association prepared musical oratorios, artistic biers and sacred representations. The latter were staged in the cemetery under the church, which, in 1762, the provveditore Agostino Ancidoni had decorated entirely with skulls and bones “artistically' arranged to create a lugubrious mise-en-scène. It was also at this time that the representations began to be staged…”

 ... an even more macabre representation was prepared in 1813 when, in the atrium of cemetery of Santo Spirito in Sassia, the scene of the Last Judgment was staged in a singular manner. Set at the feet of a wax angel sounding the trumpet to rouse the dead and call them to the Last Judgment, at the end of the pits were the real corpses of those who had died the previous night at the adjacent hospital. 
You can read more in Waxing Eloquent: Italian Portraits in Wax, edited by Andrea Daninos; find out more--or buy a copy!--here.

Image: Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte, Rome; Dorli Photography on Flickr

For more on this topic, see Corpse Theatre in the Sacred Spaces of Italy: Guest post by Elizabeth Harper, All The Saints You Should Know Blog by clicking here.

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