The Veiled Mourning Figure

Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

ALEX G. TURNER

BORN

OCT. 8, 1813

DIED

APRIL 27, 1889

Many Victorian cemetery monuments are imbued with a multitude of symbolism. In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, mourning figures from some of the most beautiful and famous cemeteries in Europe show sculpted beautiful, young, and voluptuous women often wearing revealing clothing mourning the dead.

Robinson identified four categories of ”Saving Graces”–first, women completely overcome by grief, often portrayed as having collapsed and fallen limp on the grave. Second are the women who are portrayed reaching up to Heaven as if to try to call their recently lost loved one back to Earth. Third, are the women who are immobile and grief stricken, often holding their head in their hands distraught with loss. Lastly, he describes the fourth category of “Saving Graces” as the mourning figure who is “resigned with the loss and accepting of death.”

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In this example from the Mount Olivet Cemetery at Nashville, Tennessee, the monument of Alex G. Turner, displays a young female figure, set upon on column, looking down in reflection and sorrow, her face draped by a veil.  The veil gives the figure an eerie look.  The veil is a motif that represents a separation between Earth and Heaven. The mourning figure leans against a post, her head against the urn set atop the post.  One of her arms interlaced with the urn with a flame billowing out from the top.  In her hand she holds a wreath. This mourning figure seems to be from the last category of mourning figure—sorrowful but resigned.

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The act of placing a wreath is a recurring funerary motif which is designed to remind the viewer that life is short. The urn, of course, is a container used to hold the ashes or the cremated remains of the dead. The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery.  The flame, like many Christian symbols, has several different meanings—eternal life, religious fervor, and vigilance. The flame can also represent martyrdom.

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