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Category: Art + Architecture

543. diego de alvear

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Diego de Alvear

As a rule, important families placed their mausoleums along the wider walkways of Recoleta Cemetery for maximum impact… but of course exceptions exist to every rule. Perhaps no other space was available at the time of construction, but that didn’t mean this branch of the Alvear family couldn’t build on a grand scale. Just not as many people discover it today.

Diego Estanislao de Alvear came from a long line of Argentina’s founding fathers. The family hailed from Andalucía where his great-great-grandfather founded the famous Alvear winery in Montilla (near Córdoba, photos below). Diego’s grandfather held a high position in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata & defended Spain against the forces of Napoleon in Cádiz, after losing most family & possessions when the frigate Mercedes was sunk by British naval forces. Diego’s father, Carlos María de Alvear, was not on board the Mercedes & went on to help Argentina proclaim independence from Spain. He’s buried at the entrance of the cemetery for all to see.

España, Andalucía, Montilla, Bodegas Alvear
España, Andalucía, Montilla, Bodegas Alvear
España, Andalucía, Montilla, Bodegas Alvear

Diego de Alvear passed away in 1887 after marrying into an even richer family, founding the Club del Progreso & serving in the Senate. The family hired French architect Albert Ballu to design their grand mausoleum in 1889, who would also be responsible for the Argentina pavilion at the World Expo in Paris that same year. So grand & inspiring, the pavilion was deconstructed, shipped to Argentina & rebuilt on Plaza San Martín to become a new home to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. The family certainly knew how to pick the most popular architect for the time.

Even more surprising is the interior sculpture, difficult to appreciate due to the mausoleum’s doors. But take a peek inside. Signed by Jules Roulleau in 1889, four figures of women in mourning surround a bust of Diego de Alvear. Some sources claim them to be sisters, but since he only had three they are likely allegorical representations of sorrow.

How to find this hidden masterpiece? Look for the dome… while on the main walkway between the central Christ statue & Rufina Cambacérès (also on the way to Eva Perón), look up & left to find a large dome & you’re almost there:

More photos of this fantastic & forgotten mausoleum on Alejandro Machado’s blog dedicated to French architects in Argentina.

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539. benito sánchez

Beautiful panel signed by M. Pla y Vilar. Remember that morning & sunset are the best times to peek inside mausoleums to find these gems. To see more examples, type “stained glass” into the search bar. Happy holidays to everyone, & thanks very much for all the support this year. Hope you’ve enjoyed Recoleta Cemetery as much as we do!

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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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