At the foot of the Pyramid:
300 years of the cemetery for foreigners in Rome

An exhibition of the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome and the Casa di Goethe
23 September – 13 November 2016
at the Casa di Goethe

“The most beautiful and solemn cemetery I have ever beheld” declared the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Since the height of the Grand Tour, non-Catholic foreigners dying in Rome have been buried in front of the pyramid-tomb of Caius Cestius. In 2016 the Protestant Cemetery (now officially the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners) in Rome will celebrate its 300th anniversary. For this occasion the Cemetery, in partnership with the Casa di Goethe, has planned an exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints from the 18th to early 20th centuries to illustrate the history of this place dedicated to citizens of Protestant faith who died in papal Rome.

The curator of the exhibition is Dr Nicholas Stanley-Price. It is sponsored by the 15 Embassies that administer the Cemetery (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America), under the Presidency of H.E. Peter McGovern, Ambassador of Canada in Italy.

The area of today’s cemetery was made available in 1716 by Pope Clement XI, initially to serve as a burial-ground for members of the Stuart court in exile from Britain. After a few decades, permission was given to erect funerary monuments to those buried there. The first such monument, which survives today, is to Georg Anton Friedrich von Werpup from Hanover, who died in 1765. His grave and that of the chamberlain to the Marquis of Ansbach, Wolf Carl Friedrich von Reitzenstein († 1775), are depicted in a drawing by J.Ph.Hackert (Vienna, Albertina).

They were followed by many others. It is the last resting-place not only of August von Goethe, son of the poet, but also numerous painters, sculptors, architects, as well as poets and scholars who lived in Rome or nearby. Among others, we mention Christopher Hewetson († 1799), the sons of Wilhelm von Humboldt († 1803 e 1807), John Keats († 1821) and Percy Bysshe Shelley († 1822), John Gibson († 1866), Gottfried Semper († 1879), Antonio Gramsci († 1937) and Gregory Corso († 2001).

Famous artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Bertel Thorvaldsen, William Wetmore Story and John Gibson designed funerary monuments for the Cemetery.

Their fascination with the place has in turn inspired other artists to produce paintings, poems or monuments: from Goethe to Schinkel, from Oscar Wilde to d’Annunzio, and from Turner to Munch.

The exhibition will, for the first time, provide a panorama of how European and American artists of different periods have depicted the Cemetery in paintings, drawings and prints, documenting at the same time the gradual changes in the appearance of the Cemetery. Some of the exhibits will be overall views of the area adjacent to the Pyramid and others of individual tombs. Various depictions of night-time funerals illustrate the difficult conditions in which the Protestants had to be buried. In addition to works by the artists already mentioned, there will be works by Jacques Sablet, Bartolomeo Pinelli, Salomon Corrodi, Walter Crane and others. The loans, already confirmed, come from different European museums and from private collections in Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and the United States of America.

The exhibition catalogue will be published in three different editions (English, German and Italian).


December 2015