Zine Review: An Angel Dances in the Capuchin Bone Chapel

ZINES_An Angel Dances coverAn Angel Dances in the Capuchin Bone Chapel
Artzine, Jessica Bromley Bartram, 12 pgs, jbbartram@gmail.com, $10

This beautiful zine illustrates a poem that Bromley Bartram wrote as an undergrad in Guelph, capturing her memories of visiting the ossuary beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini as a child. Inside her version of the Capuchin Bone Chapel in Rome, Italy, the remains of friars buried there between 1500 and 1870 are dancing figures where music drips “off each bone.” Spindled wings flutter, dry finger knuckles crack, “knocking knees, and jutting ribs [stumble] a slow dance to Death,” and winged bones dance a “shamed skeletal choreography.”

In Bromley Bartram’s hands, these human remains are seemingly activated by darkness and candlelight. Every rendering of bones (drawn with micron pens), whether in pattern, fixtures as part of the chapel structure, isolated skeletal figures or individual parts, suggests movement without looking disingenuous, over the top, or too cute. The finely wrought illustrations truly succeed as representations of movement and are evocative of movements within a song.

The zine transports the reader; I can imagine being in the darkened cave and with the soft ray of light and the squint of my eyes, see the patterns of animated bones circulate inside my eyelids. In the corner, a winged scapula floats of its own free will. It calls to mind the dancing silhouette in the ancient caves of France in Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. More than anything, An Angel Dances in the Capuchin Bone Chapel comes across as a send-up to the mystery of mortality and Bromley Bartram’s childhood memory rather than a tribute to an ancient religious place. (Deanna Radford)

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