Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour (1810-1861)

In Italy, notwithstanding a profound religious culture, cemetery studies are a very understudied subject if one compares what other countries are doing. This is one of the main reasons for which, when analyzing Livorno’s cemeteries and their archives, the potential for discoveries is definitely high as very few researchers have studied many of their aspects in depth; this is also one of the reasons which fueled my curiosity and engagement in this research spanning almost two decades.

I was recently filling some missing data from an interesting register at the AEG (Archives d’Etat de Genève) regarding the baptisms and marriages of Citizens and Bourgeois of Geneva occurring abroad. While scrolling for information of interest to include in my database, I found a reference to the marriage between the famous art collector and Genevan politician Jean De Sellon (1736-1810) and Anne Marie Susanne Victoire Montz (born in 1754), daughter of the great Parisian banker Jacques Montz. Their marriage was celebrated on July 19th, 1772 in Tournai, in the Walloon Church of the Dutch garrison and duly noted in the register on December of the same year.


AEG, E.C. Registres Divers 2

It is well known that Jean and Anne Marie De Sellon were the parents of three daughters and a son: Jeanne Victoire De Clermont-Tonnerre (widow Blancardi-Roero de La Turbie), Adelaide-Suzanne Benso di Cavour, Henriette Douhet d’Auzers and Jean Jacques De Sellon (who was to become a famous author, philanthropist, art collector and pacifist). In particular Adelaide Suzanne De Sellon married Count Michele Benso di Cavour in 1805, to later become the mother of Camillo Benso di Cavour in 1810.

Jean De Sellon spent a few years in Italy with his wife and their young children, first in Rome and Naples in 1790, then in Florence from 1792 to 1794, in the Villa La Mattonaia, property of the Ginori family. Every source I have read mentions their departure from Florence in the summer of 1794 and the subsequent return to Geneva, where Jean would die in 1810; strangely enough, no apparent mention of his wife’s destiny or date of death can be found.

Villa la mattonaia 03.JPG

Villa La Mattonaia in Florence (by Sailko, wikipedia)

Now, how is that possible that such a very well known woman, wife, mother and grandmother, just disappeared from the radar without any trace?
Family religion and location are the keys, in my opinion: they were protestants and  staying in Italy. Add to this a few elements like the fact that when Michele Benso di Cavour married into the De Sellon family, his mother-in-law was already dead, and that the diary of Adèle De Sellon, their daughter and future mother of Cavour, seems to have remained an unpublished manuscript, only recently re-discovered and in the custody of the Soprintendenza di Torino.

A few years ago I had digitalized and included in an electronic database all the information included in an important set of manuscripts belonging to the Dutch-German Congregation of Livorno. That’s when I discovered the death and burial certificate of “Anna Maria Susanna Vittoria, Contessa De Sellon”.


ACOA, Register I of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials (1773-1808), c.158

At that time I had yet to establish the link between this certificate and the whole family structure of this individual. This document can now be said wih certainty to be the burial certificate of the grand-mother of Camillo Benso di Cavour.

This entry demonstrates that on May 1st, 1794, Anna Maria Susanna Vittoria Montz, Countess De Sellon, was buried in the old “Dutch Garden” (Il Giardino Olandese, in Italian) of Livorno by the then chaplain Johann Paul Schulthesius, after her death in Florence on April 29th.


Drawing showing the entrance and wall of the Old Dutch-German Cemetery of Livorno around 1683-1686 (ACDF, St. St. M4 – b, ins. 2, cc. n. n., see references)

In that year the Dutch-German Congregation still had, as we said, their old cemetery (which was opened to burials in 1695), situated along the present Via Garibaldi, in an area called “Il Gigante”. This burial ground was closed in 1839-40, as were all the ancient national cemeteries of Livorno that were at that time going to be included in the new city walls. When the area was finally dismantled and sold, only a few of the very old slabs were transferred to the new cemetery along Via Mastacchi together with the bones of the dead, which were placed in an ossuary in the 1930s. The ossuary, surmounted by a small hexagonal temple, is still standing in the center of the new Dutch-German cemetery and three marble slabs list the individuals whose bones were transferred there with the contribution of the Swiss Society of Livorno.

Livorno -Cimitero Olandese Alemanno, ossario-.JPG

The Ossuary of the Dutch-German cemetery (by Etienne (Li), wikipedia)

The first slab contains the names of the oldest dead from about 1700 to 1794 and here we can read, towards the end, the name “Anna Maria Sus. Vitt. De Sellon”, confirming that the bones of the maternal grandmother of Count Cavour were indeed re-buried  there.


Everything seems to fit the official story-line of the De Sellon family: they were staying in Florence, where they had rented the Villa Mattonaia from the Ginori family. In the spring of 1794 Anne Marie Montz, wife of Jean De Sellon and future grandmother of Count Cavour, died and as they were protestants and no proper burial ground existed in Florence, she was most probably embalmed and transported to Livorno, where Rev. Schulthesius took care of issuing her death certificate and proceeded with her burial. The De Sellons then left Florence during that summer to go back to Geneva. Between 1804 and 1813 all their children married (including Adèle, Cavour’s mother, in 1805) and in 1810 Jean De Sellon died there. Cavour himself was born in 1810, so while he knew his aunts and his uncle Jean Jacques, he never met his maternal grandparents. We do not know if he was aware of his grandmother’s burial place or if he ever came to visit her grave, but it can now be said with certainty that she was buried in Livorno’s old Dutch-German cemetery, “Il Giardino”.

AEG: Archives d’Etat de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland.
ACDF: Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, Vatican City.
ACOA: Archivio della Congregazione Olandese-Alemanna, Livorno.
NSL: Nuovi Studi Livornesi, specifically: Stefano Villani, Alcune note sulle recinzioni dei cimiteri acattolici livornesi, in NSL XI (2004), pp.35-51.