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HYPERDEATH AND THE SCOPIC CORPSE

IN THE CIMITERO DEI CAPPUCCINI in Rome, a forbidden fruit of lapidary style, I found myself tipsy with a morose and peculiar vision—overwhelmed, engulfed, supersaturated. The designs and mise-en-scènes of this ossuary as art are arranged from innumerable human bones, the skeletons of over 4,000 of the Capuchin monastic order’s 17th-century brothers, displayed by their survivors as an unashamedly ornamental attack on death. The syntax is so rich and evocative as to border on logorrhea. The style is so purple as to spill over into ultraviolet.

The monks whose bones create this macabre installation were true if bizarre artists, yet their crypt is little known today outside a rarefied circle of horror devotees. I searched for more than 45 minutes to find it, though I knew its address. No signs. No help from the guidebook. No lines of tourists outside. How could this be? At some time or another

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