Before Christmas, I spoke to my friend Helen Craig about her great-grandfather, Gaetano Meo, and I'm also grateful to Sarah Timewell for her help with much information about him. He's the handsome young man in the very jolly hat below.
He's also the gorgeous youth in Edward Burne- Jones's famous painting, Love among the Ruins. You will find him in paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Henry Holiday, and William Blake Richmond, who taught the young Italian to paint. Gaetano had walked all the way across Europe from his home province, Basilicata, near Calabria, earning money by playing his harp. In London, he met members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and today, his image is here, on display in the exhibition currently on show at Tate Britain.
The grave where Gaetano is buried was somehow forgotten until recently. It was made by him as a memorial for his beloved wife and it was the last mosaic he created. When it was rediscovered, it was not in a good state, but Helen, together with the well-known mosaicist Tessa Hunkin (who carried out the skilled cleaning, and the replacement of fallen tesserae) brought it back to its old glory once again.
After much preliminary experimentation with different paints to see what would be suitable for working on glass (which is the material used for the tesserae) and after many sketches of the Madonna and her child, Helen went to Hampstead Cemetery to paint new and beautiful faces on Gaetano's gravestone. Her nephew, Paul, fixed up a wooden frame which made it possible to paint straight on to the glass and here's a picture of Helen doing that on a hot summer day.
This is the finished image .....
...and I'm sure Gaetano would have loved it and been proud that his own great granddaughter was instrumental in restoring it to a state of great beauty. If there's an afterlife, Helen's ancestor, (who seems to have been a delightful man, as well as a talented artist,) would be thrilled to bits with what she's done.
Helen has a hat too, though it lacks Gaetano's decorations. Here she is at the grave. She should put a feather in her cap, I think, in honour of what she and Tessa Hunkin have rescued from oblivion.