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Category: Art + Architecture

536. familia de viñas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, De Viñas

Raúl Barón Biza (1899-1964) was many things: writer, cynic, millionaire, politician, lover, pornographer & a victim of suicide. Many online sources dig into his fascinating life, but for this post we’ll limit ourselves to his first love, her tragedy & her burial.

Barón Biza met his first wife, the Swiss actress Myriam Stefford (née Rosa Martha Rossi Hoffmann) during a trip to Europe, & they married on 28 Aug 1930. Myriam grew bored with her new life running a large cattle ranch, so she began taking flight classes. In mid-August 1931 she announced that she was going to visit all 14 provinces in Argentina by airplane. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Luis Pozzo Ardizzi of the high society magazine Caras y Caretas:

— You’re thinking of using an airplane as your method of transportation?
— Of course! I’m training now to begin a quick trip around this country that I love so much.
— Will this be a groundbreaking trip?
— I don’t know –she says smiling– that will be for you to decide. I’m thinking about flying over all 14 provinces. And I’ll do it in my small B.F.W. airplane, with an 80 horsepower Siemens engine.
— You realize that someone else has already flown over all 14 provinces?
— I do. And with time on my side, I’ll do it as well.
— In how many days?
— She answers, smiling: If I can… in three…
— Does your airplane have a unique name?
— A modest name, because I’m starting this trip modestly. I call my airplane “Chingolo”. I want Chingolo to spread its wings for a breathtaking flight…
— Once finished, are you considering another big trip?
— Yes. I will try to show that a small plane, made for tourism, can do some interesting things.
— …?
— I’d like to try to reach North America…
— That’s a risky undertaking.
— It will be. But I’ve got enough enthusiasm to give it a go.
And after this last sentence, the charming movie star who has mastered all types of sport bids us goodbye to resume her training.
(Caras y Caretas 1715, 15 Aug 1931, pg. 18)

That “modest trip” ended tragically on August 26th, two days before Stefford’s first wedding anniversary. Chingolo II (the first had mechanical problems & had to be replaced with another plane) fell from the skies for reasons that were never known near Marayes in San Juan province. For Barón Biza the news was horrific; for the national media, who loved the aviatrix, it was catastrophic, as reflected in La Nación the next day:

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

La Nación, Chingolo II, Myriam Stefford

Three days after the accident, Stefford (who was never mentioned as “the wife of Barón Biza”, something rare for the time) & her instructor Luis Fuchs were buried in Recoleta Cemetery. The actress/aviatrix was laid to rest in a mausoleum which then belonged to Wilfrid Barón, the father of Barón Biza. The structure was later sold to the Fabre family, & next to its current owner, the De Viñas family.

La Nación, Recoleta Cemetery, Myriam Stefford

Myriam didn’t stay in Recoleta long, since Raúl Barón Biza immediately ordered the construction of the largest sepulchre in the country: a monstrous vault 82 m tall placed in the countryside of Los Cerrillos, near Alta Gracia in Córdoba province. His friend, the engineer Fausto Regino Newton, designed the concrete monument whose meaning remains unclear to many: Is it the profile of a plane’s wing, as is often said? Is it an obelisk, taller than the one in Buenos Aires as many people from Córdoba proudly claim? Or is it an Egyptian symbol of resurrection? Whatever its significance, Myriam Stefford moved there on 22 Nov 1935 & was placed under several meters of cement… that’s when legends began to circulate. It’s said that she was buried with her jewels, among them a 45-carat diamond named the “Cruz del Sur”, with Barón Biza laying traps to prevent anyone from profaning the tomb—including placing explosives—& on the very top a beacon whose light could be seen for several kilometers.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

The truth is that the monument remains in place after all these years, after a second great tragedy in the life of Barón Biza: one afternoon in August 1964 in an act of rage, he threw acid on the face of his second wife, Clotilde Sabatini, & immediately afterwards shot himself in the head. He had sold the land where Stefford’s mausoleum sits in Alta Gracia many years earlier.

This is how it looks now, abandoned & alone. A project has been proposed to convert the area into a theme park about the enigmatic writer & his young wife who passed away prematurely. In the meantime, the “wing” attracts the curious, as well as architecture fans & film students… also a number of distraught people who have unfortunately committed suicide by jumping from the tallest window.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford

Originally, the monolith displayed the motor of Chingolo II along with many plaques but all have since been removed or stolen. The entrance to the monolith remained opened for many years, but vandalism & attempted profanation prompted officials to solder the door shut permanently. No one now climbs the hundreds of steps to reach the top; supposedly the last time was in 2008. The future of this forgotten monument remains uncertain.

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Alta Gracia, Myriam Stefford, mausoleum

Thanks to co-author Marcelo Metayer for contributing this post. The original version in Spanish (with additional text & photos) can be found on his blog: El Navegante Solitario.

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534. jorge larco

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco

Born in 1897 in Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco left with his family at the age of six to live in Madrid where he began studying art. He was certainly influenced by works being produced by the Generación del 98 at the time & even studied under Julio Romero de Torres. After a visit to México to receive instruction from Roberto Montenegro, Larco returned to Buenos Aires in 1916. Two years later he began teaching at the Fine Arts school… where he remained until he was 54 years old.

His style of art tended toward elongated figures as seen from these examples from the 1930s: Boxeador, a self-portrait & a sketch of María Luisa

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, Boxeador, 1930

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, self-portrait

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, María Luisa en el sur, 1931

Larco passed away in 1967, but made sure his tomb stood out with twin burning funeral lamps & the entire structure wrapped with large metal poppies:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco

But the inside contains even more fantastic—if hard to appreciate—art. Two stained glass panels are difficult to visualize from the outside, but if the glass door happens to be open, peek in. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, but it’s the best we could do. One panel appears to be Mary kneeling at the foot of Jesus after descending from the cross. Another panel appears to be a monk reading the bible… St. Jerome is often portrayed with a beard, a book & a skull (among other symbols), but this could be St. Augustine as well. Any ideas?

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, stained glass

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Jorge Larco, stained glass

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530. giulio monteverde

Giulio Monteverde

Many upper-class Argentine families were proud of their Italian heritage, so quite a bit of Italian art can be found in Recoleta Cemetery. Born in a small town in Piemonte in 1837, Giulio Monteverde moved with his family to Genoa & began his artistic career there at the age of nine. A very young apprentice! Later he studied in Rome & eventually became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. By the 1870s, Monteverde drew critical acclaim for his statue of a young Christopher Columbus & a work titled The Genius of Franklin… a young angel holding a lightning rod.

Monteverde indirectly influenced Recoleta Cemetery by teaching two famous sculptors who would leave works inside: Victor de Pol & Lola Mora. But he would also leave one piece of his own. When the entrance gate of Recoleta Cemetery was enlarged in 1881, architect Juan Buschiazzo incorporated a chapel for families to hold a final service. Who better to decorate that chapel than the famous Monteverde? His crucifixion statue is often missed since visitors rarely stop inside. Take a moment to appreciate this wonderful work of art:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrada, capilla, Giulio Monteverde

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrada, capilla, Giulio Monteverde

Monteverde also made one of the most recognized pieces of funerary art for the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in 1882 (first photo below). Often referred to as the Angel of Death or the Angel of Resurrection, a copy exists in Recoleta Cemetery on the Llambi Campbell family vault (second photo below):

Cemetery, Staglieno, Giulio Monteverde

Recoleta Cemetery, Llambi Campbell

He was also hired to produce a monument for the city of Buenos Aires dedicated to Giuseppe Mazzini, who fought for the unification of Italy & popular democracy. The 1879 statue can be found in Plaza Roma:

Buenos Aires, Plaza Roma, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giulio Monteverde

Monteverde passed away in 1917, leaving behind a legacy of art & beauty. Most of the plaster studies for his sculptures can be found today in the Gipsoteca Monteverde in his birthplace of Bistagno.

Portrait & Staglieno photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Mazzini photo courtesy of Centro Virtual de Arte Argentino.

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let us show you around…

Endless Mile, Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery guide

The list of occupants of Recoleta Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Argentine history & society. The elite, an aspiring middle class, friends, enemies & those who contributed to the general welfare of Argentina all share space in a miniature city of mausoleums & monuments.

During a visit, you’ll stroll past Presidents & politicians (some naughty, some nice), Nobel Prize winners, literary greats, entertainers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures & even some who died tragically. The cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva María Duarte de Perón—simply Evita to her devotées—even had a bizarre post-mortem journey before finally resting in peace in Recoleta.

Want to learn more? Get all the details in our highly-recommended pdf guide. The authors of this blog are proud to have guided more than 1,500 people through Recoleta Cemetery… join in!

Notice: Due to recent events, all cemeteries in Buenos Aires—Recoleta, Chacarita & Flores—will not allow visitors to enter with bags or backpacks, & handbags will be inspected by security.

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512. julio dormal

Mausoleo de San Martín, Catedral Metropolitana, Buenos Aires

Recognized Argentine architects like Julián García Núñez & Alejandro Christophersen helped build Recoleta Cemetery and were buried there as well. But surprisingly few burial sites for major architects are known today. Perhaps they shared a similar fate as that of Julio Dormal…

Born in 1846 in Liège (Belgium), Jules Dormal Godet arrived in Argentina after studying architecture in Paris. Early business deals failed but after settling in Buenos Aires in 1870, Dormal’s timing & contacts could not have been better. Sarmiento hired him to design a new park—Parque 3 de Febrero—previously occupied by the estate of the President’s arch-enemy, Juan Manuel de Rosas.

Many more projects followed. In fact, Dormal was responsible for several landmarks still visible today in Buenos Aires. He designed the tomb to house the remains of General San Martín inside the cathedral (top photo above). After the assassination of architect Victor Meano, he continued construction of the National Congress:

Buenos Aires, Congreso Nacional

Meano also left the Teatro Colón incomplete, so Dormal took over as well & designed much of the interior:

Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón

Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón, Jules Dormal

Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón, Jules Dormal

In following years, Dormal completed or executed from start to finish many of the aristocratic mansions in the northern sector of the city. The Palacio Pereda now houses the Brazilian embassy:

Buenos Aires, Palacio Pereda

Unfortunately many of those grand houses have since been demolished. But the residence for Julio Peña still stands on Calle Florida, now occupied by the Sociedad Rural Argentina. Non-members can get a peek at the luxury inside by going for lunch at the restaurant:

Buenos Aires, Palacio Julio Peña, Sociedad Rural Argentina, Julio Dormal

Buenos Aires, Palacio Julio Peña, Sociedad Rural Argentina, Julio Dormal

Not limited to only Buenos Aires, Dormal also built several notable structures in other cities. Perhaps his most emblematic work outside the capital is the very afrancesado Casa de Gobierno in La Plata:

La Plata, Casa de Gobierno, Julio Dormal

La Plata, Casa de Gobierno, Julio Dormal

La Plata, Casa de Gobierno, Julio Dormal

Dormal passed away in 1924 & was buried in Recoleta Cemetery inside the mausoleum belonging to his wife, Elena Sosa Díaz. But his remains were cremated in 1989 and, according to cemetery records, were likely placed inside the Dolmas Arévalo vault. Why? No one knows. However, neither the Sosa Díaz tomb nor that of Dolmas Arévalo exist today.

Hopefully Jules Dormal continues to rest in peace wherever he may be.

Photos of the Casa de Gobierno in La Plata courtesy of Marcelo Metayer.

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