A couple of days ago I went back to the New English Cemetery of Livorno to do a quick survey after the extensive cleaning carried out in the last two months. I took several pictures while wandering around and discovered a few things, as I had expected…
In section DII I stumbled upon a tall monument shaped like a rocky hill with two cherubs, one climbing it and the other one in tears, sitting on top with his head bowed. A large cross is erected on the top draped in a sort of shroud. A cartouche covers the front of the hill and bears the following inscription: “Alla cara memoria del Cav. Bar. Seymour Stocker Kirkup – Inglese”. A coat of arms is carved just below this inscription, to the right side of the climbing cherub.
Baron Kirkup, as he was often called, was an artist and spent an important part of his life in Florence as a “dilettante” and art historian. He was a very passionate scholar of Dante and in 1840 he made the extraordinary discovery of a portrait of Dante by Giotto in the Cappella del Podestà of the Bargello in Florence (See below for his own description of the finding). Kirkup had also a strong interest in spiritualism and he was a friend and disciple of the notorious medium Daniel Dunglas Home to whom he presented Mrs. Barrett Browning, the wife of his friend Robert Browning. His circle of friends also included the writer Thomas Adolphus Trollope, the poet Gabriele Rossetti, Walter Savage Landor, the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon (who is a nephew of another Englishman of Livorno, the merchant James Partridge), the novelist adventurer Edward John Trelawny, the poet and politician Richard Monckton Milnes, and the poet and encyclopaedist Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Seymour Kirkup was born in London on June 22nd, 1788 and was baptized four days later in the church of St. James in Westminster. His father, Joseph Kirkup, was a jeweller and diamond merchant in London, probably having earlier been apprenticed in the shop of Robert Gray & Son. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information about Ann, the Baron’s mother.
In 1816 Kirkup was already a resident of Italy, living in Rome and Florence. He
remained unmarried until a very late age: around 1854 he married the daughter of his housemaid, a beautiful 17 year old “popolana” named Regina Ronti, who made him believe that her newly born child, Imogene, was his daughter. Imogene’s life was brief, she married a certain Teodoro Cioni from Livorno and managed to have two children of which Carlo died in 1879, a year after her. I found her grave with a picture in the Misericordia cemetery, a few weeks ago.
Imogene “was a clever, worthless hussy” says Trollope. Kirkup found that both her and her mother had some special spiritual qualities. Therefore he considered them spiritual mediums who could communicate with the dead (including Dante).
Hawthorne, in a passage of his French and Italian Note-Books, describes Kirkup as “rather low of stature, with a pale, shrivelled face, and hair and beard perfectly white, and the hair of a particular soft and silken texture. He has a high, thin nose, of the English aristocratic type; his eyes have a queer, rather wild look, and the eyebrows are arched above them, so that he seems all the time to be seeing something that strikes him with surprise. I judged him to be a little crack-brained, chiefly on the strength of this expression. His whole make is delicate, his hands white and small, and his appearance and manners those of a gentleman, with rather more embroidery of courtesy than belongs to an Englishman. He appeared to be very nervous, tremulous, indeed, to his fingers’ ends, without being in any degree disturbed or embarrassed by our presence. Finally, he is very deaf; an infirmity that quite took away my pleasure in the interview, because it is impossible to say anything worthwhile when one is compelled to raise one’s voice above its ordinary level”.
Kirkup married again in 1875, at the incredible age of 87, with Paolina (aged 22) a daughter of the English Vice-Consul in Rome Pasquale Carboni. He died in Livorno, Scali del Ponte Nuovo n.4, on the 3rd of January 1880 and was buried two days later in the New English Cemetery.