Friday, 13 February 2009



I drew inspiration for this portrait of a deceased bishop principally from the Capuchins' Catacombs located in Palermo, Italy, where there are thousands of corpses lined on the walls like paintings. The catacombs date back to 1599 when the local priests mummified Br Silvestro from Gubbio. The last religious to be interred was Br Riccardo of Palermo in 1871. Rosalia Lombardo was one of the last lay corpses to be received into the catacombs before the local authorities discontinued the practice. Rosalia died circa 1920 and quickly became known as the "Sleeping Beauty." Her sister and family frequently visited her coffin after her death. Some of the corpses have long ago lost their flesh and are skeletons. Others have flesh, hair and eyes. All are dressed in clothes from the period in which they lived. Several of the corpses appear as if "screaming" from the dead. Some have body parts which have fallen off over the years. The catacombs are divided into men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks and professionals. The professionals' section contains the bodies of professors, doctors, lawyers, painters, officers and soldiers of the Bourbon and Italian army. Among the famous names are those of the painter Velasquez, the sculptors Filippo Pennino and Lorenzo Marabitti and the surgeon Salvatore Manzella. These bodies, some preserved while others are in stages of decomposition, remain with us and on view. Their souls, however, have long since departed to God and to a better world. In this eerie place you can actually sense that.


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