Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy hold more than 8000 mummies, from artists and surgeons to military figures and monks who died between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 20th. The bodies are embalmed, fully clothed, and many of them posed as if they were still alive. As the bodies have decayed, albeit slowly, over the years, the catacombs experience apparently has become even more surreal. Architectural historian Robert Harbison of London Metropolitan University wrote about his visit to the Capuchin Catacombs in Cabinet magazine. The article is accompanied by intense photos by Marco Lanza. From the article:

 Issues 28 Assets Images Harbison3In Palermo… corpses are treated as characters in a play. Perhaps Walt Disney and Madame Tussaud were inspired by places like this, but the Capuchin crypt will not remind you of their worlds, for in spite of all the talk about the great lengths the monks have gone to in order to create lifelike effects, it feels like somewhere that fell into disuse long ago.

Most of the corpses are wearing clothes, it is true, many of them are sitting up, and whole rows of them are standing. But standing is only a mistake of vision: they are hanging from hooks, so their feet don’t normally touch the ground. And the clothe– there’s a kind of allegory in them. They are so dusty and so faded that the whole picture sinks toward something like monochrome. They remind me of a painter that a friend of mine knew who got the idea of painting indoors with the blinds drawn and the lights off. The results were extremely melancholy: muted colors, indistinct forms.

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