Victorian Melange, Take 2

 

SEBASTIANO ORSINI

BORN IN SIRACUSA, ITALY, FEB. 3. 1873.

DIED IN SAVANNAH, JAN. 9. 1918.

A TRUE AND KIND MAN.  A FAITHFUL

HUSBAND, LIVED A QUITE BUT USEFUL

LIFE, AND DIED REGRETTED BY ALL

WHO KNEW HIM.

 

SALVATRICE ORSINI

BORN IN SIRCUSA, ITALY

FEB. 21, 1875

DIED IN SAVANNAH, GA.

AUG. 10, 1953

MAY HER SOUL REST IN PEACE

The white marble gravestone of Sebastiano and Salvatrice Orsini in the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, is a Victorian mélange of symbolism—the family crest, the wreath, the scrolls, oak leaves circling the column, drapery, and the lion. The gravestone shape itself—the broken column—is a symbol.   The broken column iconography represents a life ended.  The broken column symbolizes a life cut short. Some sources say that it represents the loss of the head of the family—others that it represents the life cut down in its prime.

This elaborately carved gravestone was carved by Antonio Aliffi (188-1936) who was a well-known sculptor.  According to a book titled, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery: Photographs from the Collection of The Georgia Historical Society. Copyright 1998 by Amie Marie Wilson and Mandi Dale Johnson, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC. Aliffi was born in Sicily, and descended from a long line of Italian sculptors.  Aliffi was hired to work for Walz  who owned a marble yard.  According to the book, “Aliffi was a very busy sculptor, working on projects in Savannah and around the country.  He is reported to have carved on Georgia’s Stone Mountain and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, as well as on the ceiling of Savannah’s Lucas Theater.”

According to Historic Bonaventure Cemetery: Photographs from the Collection of The Georgia Historical Society,  “Sabastian Orsini (1873-1918) was also an Italian immigrant.  He came to Savannah around 1898 and along with several brothers was involved in the grocery business.  From 1912 to 1915, the Savannah City Directory listed him as proprietor of the Savannah Macaroni Works.”

The symbols:

Wreath

The wreath’s shape—the circle—represents eternal memory and immortality.  The wreath’s use dates back to Greek and Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.  The ancients also awarded poets and athletes wreaths as a prize.  In funerary art the wreath is seen as a symbol of victory over death.

Lion

The lion has long been a symbol of bravery, strength, and majesty. In popular culture, the lion is known for its power and is called King of the Jungle and King of the Beasts.  The lion is often used as a royal emblem, found eight times in the Royal Arms for the Queen of England alone!  The lion in funerary art symbolizes the power of God. It is often depicted flanking the entrance of a tomb to guard against evil spirits to the passageway to the next realm. It also represents the courage of the souls the lions guard. There is also a connection of the lion to the Resurrection. It was once believed that lion cubs were born dead but would come to life after three days when the cubs were breathed upon by a male lion. The three days is significant because it is the number of days Jesus was in the tomb before he was resurrected.

The base that the lion stands on has four initials inscribed on its base: O. F. D. I.  Two different readers supplied an answer to the meaning of the initials: Ordina Figli D’Italia or “The Sons of Italy.”  Often a member of that fraternal organization will have a metal marker with the symbol of the lion in the center to mark their membership.  Orsini’s grave did not have the marker below as the symbol was carved into the face of his gravestone.

Drapery

Some sources say that drapery with a fringe represents the veil between one realm and another—Earth and Heaven.

Scroll

The scroll represents both the life of the deceased and the time spent on Earth. The scroll is unfurled, most likely representing the life that is being recorded by the angels.

Oak leaf

According to an industry publication, The Monumental News, “The Oak is representative of Firmness and Strength while the Ivy symbolizes Memory and Friendship.  From this the reader will understand why the oak and ivy are so often arranged in a single memorial design.  The sturdy oak for Father and the clinging ivy for Mother, representing impregnable friendship, devotion and lasting memory.”

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3 Responses to Victorian Melange, Take 2

  1. Paul Breda says:

    If you paid for such a lavish monument to your noble life, would you not be OUTRAGED – even beyond the grave – that “quiet” was misspelled on it?!

  2. Meredith Deem says:

    Gorgeous post! I had no idea about the connection between the lion and the Resurrection — fascinating!

    I think I may have figured out to what the letters O.F.D.I refer: they are the Italian acronym for “Order Sons of Italy” [in America] or Ordina Figli D’Italia. It appears they also used a lion to symbolize their order (as you surmised). I found some images of different pins and medals that show a lion with the letters inscribed below.

    Link to an example: https://www.collectors.com/historical-item/antique-vintage-ofdi-of-a-order-sons-of-italy-of-america-pi/5335822099924622459

  3. Laurie E. says:

    O.F.D.I.: Ordine Figli D’Italia, which translates to “Order Sons of Italy,” an Italian-American fraternal organization.

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