********DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DON’T LIKE READING ABOUT MUMMIES/SCARY STUFF********
This is Rosalia Lombardo, a barely two years old girl who died in 1920. (So she’s not a part of the Belle Époque, but Calcedonio Reina’s painting "Love and Death" is part of that époque. The painting shows one of the hallways in the catacombs.)
She is in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (on the Italian Island Sicily), and she’s been there ever since she was embalmed in 1920. That’s right, this girl has been dead for almost 100 years (94 years, to be exact)!
She died of pneumonia in December 1920. After her death, her father decided to bring her to the Capuchin Catacombs (because he wanted to give her an “eternal life” there, among thousands of mummies). He was lucky, she was accepted (as one of the last dead people who’ve been allowed to be a part of the Capuchin Catacombs). But before that happened, her father took her corpse to the renowned embalmer Alfredo Salafia. It was said that he could perform miracles, and make the dead seem alive. So Rosalia’s family had high expectations (naturally) when they let him try to make Rosalia seem alive again.
And the embalming turned out to be a success, and one of Salafia’s best embalmed mummies. She was placed among the other (not so well embalmed) babies in the Capuchin Catacombs, and became a huge success among the visitors.
Alfredo Saladia kept his embalming recipe so secret that it took almost 60 - 70 years to figure out how he embalmed people. Up until the 1980s/1990s, no one knew exactly what kind of formula he had used. And until 2009, she was thought to be a remarkably well embalmed mummy (which she of course still is). In 2009, a photographer from National Geographic was allowed to photograph her (it has been said that the visitors not always are allowed to photograph her, as she is so fragile). But when she was well lit and the photos were taken, the photographer noticed that for the first time, Rosalia’s face had begun showing signs of decomposition. This literally saved Rosalia, as a huge rescue mission was launched, and a new coffin was made for her (the new coffin looks a lot like a spaceship, and she appears to have gotten her very own room).
Little can be done to reverse the signs of decomposition, but now she is in a coffin that will preserve her better than her previous coffin did. And without the photographer from National Geographic, her critical condition wouldn’t have been discovered before it was too late. She still looks like a little angel, now with her own spaceship. :)