Neo-Classical Sarcophagus

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York

Stanford White and Augustus Saint Gaudens collaborated on the pink granite Francis W. Tracy monument in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.  It is clear that White took his inspiration from an ancient classical design replicated in many modern graveyards modeled after the Roman tomb of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus.

The Scipio sarcophagus was erected around 150 BC.  Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (died c. 280 BC) was one of the two elected Roman consuls in 298 BC. His tomb is now preserved in the Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy. It is an example of classical Greek design based on the same design principles used for the Parthenon and described in a trade publication for stone carvers, “Design Hints for Memorial Craftsmen”, written by John Cargill, a designer from the Chicago design firm of Chas. G. Blake & Company, November 1928, Volume 5, Number 5, pages 14-16. The magazine was published monthly at St. Cloud, Minnesota, by editor and publisher, Dan B. Haslam.

According to Cargill, the scroll work, at the top of the canopy represents the Heavens, and also represented a bed. “The scrolls represent a bed; the bed refers to sleep and sleep is a type of death; and to the righteous death is but glorious transport to Paradise.”

Neo-classical exemplar of Scipio-like sarcophagus from Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Further in the article, he described the evolution of the classical architectural design principles, which he writes were conceived from the order that the ancients found in nature, primarily astrological, that were used in Greek architecture to imbue harmony into their structures.

The sarcophagus has three distinct planes representing the universe—the base, the middle, and the top. The base was symbolic of the Earth, the middle represented man and the gods, and the top of the sarcophagus where the scroll rests represented the Heavens.

In the traditional design there is the addition of more symbolism embedded on the monument. The triglyphs represent the column found in the Doric architectural order and most likely symbolizes a temple. The rosettes may be symbolic of sun gods. Some of the rosettes also have a cross designed into them. The cross was an ancient symbol adopted long before the Christians adopted it. For the ancients it was a symbol of the sun.

However, in the design by White, the triglyphs and rosettes have been replaced by and egg and dart design and an inset that includes a medallion bas-relief portrait of a young Tracy modeled by Saint Gaudens.  The portrait draws on Saint Gaudens’s expertise as an expert cameo cutter and his ability to imbue a bas-relief with detail. The medallion portrait within an ivy wreath is flanked by the inscription: TEARS TO THEE FAR FAR BELOW THE EARTH TEARS DO I BRING TO THEE AMONG THE DEAD.

The entire booklet, “Design Hints for Memorial Craftsmen,” can be found at the Quarries and Beyond Website: http://quarriesandbeyond.org/cemeteries_and_monumental_art/cemetery_stones.html.

The Quarries and Beyond Website was created by Peggy B. and Patrick Perazzo. It focuses on historic stone quarries, stone workers and companies, and related subjects such as geology. Whenever possible links of finished products are provided on the Website. There is a “Quarry Articles” section that presents articles, booklets, and links from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including the 1856 “The Marble-Workers’ Manual.” The “Cemetery Stones and Monuments” section provides references and resources, including many old monument magazines, catalogs, price lists, and a photographic tour “From Quarry to Cemetery Monuments.”

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