CLOSE UP: John Rankin - Monumentale

John Rankin

Close Up: A new series taking a close-up look at some of the favourite series of works from Shutter Hub's photographers. 

Take a look with us at John Rankin's book Monumentale, a beautiful photographic journey around the three great graveyards of northern Italy, and find out a bit about the story behind it…


Visitors to any of the three great northern Italian cities of Milan, Genoa and Turin will usually be given free maps at their hotel of choice on arrival. However all three guides contain curious blank spots. If the traveler is intrepid enough to visit these large uncharted areas they will find arguably some of the most fascinating outdoor museums in the world.

The blank spots all contain cemeteries of titanic proportions, all fittingly named “monumentale”, all filled with the most breath taking memorial sculpture to be found anywhere. Particularly of note are the life sized 19th century social realist sculpture groups which gradually give way to the extravagance of art nouveau, symbolism and art deco.

In Staglieno in particular, the suburb which lends Genoa’s graveyard its name, much of the work is weirdly erotic with an abundance of flesh carved expertly in stone or cast in bronze on display. 19th century Faith challenged by science led to an abandoning of traditional deist Roman Catholic imagery by both artists and their patrons in favour of more personal and even experimental expressions of grief. The survivors of the buried loved one often take centre stage in the memorial piece, confirming their mourning status, piety and wealth.

This incredible heritage now for the most part stands covered in the dust of more than a hundred years, some pieces moldering away possibly beyond restoration. In a country already bulging with famous art treasures you do not have to be a Taphophile to be filled with wonder on discovering these gardens, these blank spots on the free maps. As Mark Twain wrote after visiting the still new Staglieno, “we shall continue to remember it after we shall have forgotten the palaces.”


Like what you see here? John Rankin’s new book features photographs shot over a three year period of some of the finest art in all three cemeteries, featuring loosely themed sections on social realism, the death bed, nudes, angels, landscapes, the spectacular and strange and children, with a complete plate list and new essay on this “legacy of love”. You can find out more, and order your copy of Monumentale here

Originally from Clydebank in Scotland, John has studied photography and cinematography in Newcastle, Derby and Moscow. Currently living in London he has worked on various film and photo projects over the years. Check out John Rankin's full Shutter Hub portfolio here 


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John Rankin