My studio is near Rome’s Verano Monumental Cemetery. The “monumental” refers to the numerous monuments honouring the deceased within the cemetery’s walls. Verano is often referred to as “un museo all’aperto”—an open air museum full of sculptures. But it’s also a smorgasboard of applied arts such as mosaics, stained glass, wrought-iron ornamentation, and bas-relief decorations.
Verano, although within the city limits, is an ocean of melancholy cypress trees hoovering over the departed. A few years ago I was so enthralled by the magic of Verano that I used to go there on the average of once a week. Totally mesmerized, I would walk for hours around taking notes and photos. Because walking around Verano is like taking a tour of Italian history and culture.
It was on one of those many walks that I became better acquainted with George Santayana (18863-1952) best known for his aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Spanish philosopher is buried at Verano in an area known as the Panteon de la Obra Pia Espanola, burial space for Spaniards of interest who died in Rome.
The Panteon was designed by the Spanish architect, Javier Carvajal Ferrer, in 1955 when he was studying at the Academy of Fine Art in Rome. Carvajal, founder of Brutalist architecture which was bery formal and rational, used much cement, travertine, and black steel grating for the construction of the Panteon.
While teaching at Harvard, Santayana, always under pressure to publish something, the university let him know that “through ladies that I had better publish a book…on at of course. So I wrote this wretched potboiler.” The “wretched potboiler” was published in 1886 and entitled The Sense of Beauty.
Beauty is about emotion as it gives us pleasure. Beauty, therefore, is not found in an object but, instead, in the human experience. Beauty can’t be described in words. Because, to grasp its meaning, you must feel it on your skin.