Victorian Weepers

 

Calvary Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana

In David Robinson’s book, Saving Graces, mourning figures from some of the most famous cemeteries in Europe depict sculptures of beautiful, young, and voluptuous women often wearing revealing clothing as they mourn the dead. Often these sepulchral figures are referred to as weepers, and are intended to represent mourning and sorrow.  Since ancient times, women have been the ones in our families and in our society who showed grief and shed tears over those lost to death. Like the women in ancient times, these sculptures are depicted as standing over the graves in sorrow.

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.”

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In the example from the from the “Granite Marble and Bronze,” September 1921, page 20, a company in Milford, Massachusetts the advertisement depicts a “weeper” with her head looking down in reflection and sorrow, holding an Easter lily sprig in one hand and the bloom of the flower in the other—as if she is going to gently lay it on the grave.  However, unlike her European counterparts, the Victorian weeper was usually not voluptuous but often portrayed as androgynous and dressed modestly in a diaphanous gown loosely fitted and flowing beyond her feet.

This mourning figure is a common sight in Victorian cemeteries and 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.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

According to, Victorian Cemetery Art by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1972, “The large amounts of space in the Victorian cemetery were to revolutionize cemetery art, and permit the use of sculpture in a way that the crowded churchyard had never allowed.”  Now there was room in the garden cemeteries of the nineteenth century for lavish monuments. Gillon goes on to write, “Sepulchral sculpture, with its prone effigies and kneeling weepers, had flowered in the past, but only for the rich and powerful.”

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The advertisement page from the “Product of a Milford Granite Plant,” from “Granite Marble and Bronze,” September 1921, pp. 20, of Milford, Massachusetts was provided by Peggy Perazzo who shares her vast collection of gravestone catalogs and resources at:

*  “Stone Quarries and Beyond Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StoneQuarriesAndBeyond/

*  Stone Quarries and Beyond Continues” (new web site – continuation of “Stone Quarries and Beyond”)

http://quarriesandbeyondcontinues.com/

The Quarries and Beyond Website and Facebook page were created by Peggy B. and Patrick Perazzo. The collection 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 on the Website 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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One Response to Victorian Weepers

  1. tiptoethroughthegravestones says:

    Thank you! I didn’t know these were called weepers 😁

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