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 Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois, the monument of prominent railroad builder, Philander Cable (1817-1886), displays a young classically clad female figure leaning against the base of the sarcophagus. In her right hand she holds a long palm frond. The palm frond is an ancient symbol of victory, dating back to Roman times when victors were presented with palm fronds. The palm fronds were also laid in the path of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. So, for many Christians, the palm represents righteousness, resurrection, and martyrdom, symbolizing the spiritual victory over death associated with the Easter story. In this example, the mourning figure seems to fall within the second and fourth category. She is reaching upward placing the palm frond but is also forlorned and grieving.
The spectacular bronze monument was commissioned in 1891 by Philander Cable’s son in honor of his father and cast in Brussels. The monument was sculpted by the Belgian artist Paul DeVigne (1843-1901). DeVigne was born in Ghent and trained by his father, who was also an artist. DeVigne began exhibiting his work as early as 1868. Most of his works were created for public monuments in Belgium and France.