Victorian Mourning Figure

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

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 last category of “Saving Graces” as the mourning figure who is “resigned with the loss and accepting of death.”

In this example from the Mount Olivet Cemetery at Nashville, Tennessee, the monument of prominent philanthropist and investor Thomas Wrenne and his son-in-law Dr. William Sumpter, displays a young female figure, with her forehead leaning against one hand, looking down in reflection and sorrow, while she is placing an  Easter lily on the monument. This mourning figure seems to be a combination of the last two categories that Robinson mentions, head in her hands stricken with grief but resigned.  The act of placing the flower is also a recurring funerary motif which is designed to remind the viewer that life is short. The Victorian funerary symbolism associated with flowers used the Easter lily to represent the resurrection.

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