Four Virtues

ORSON PHELPS

BORN

DEC. 17, 1805,

DIED

MARCH 15, 1870

CALISTA MARIA

TALBOT,

DIED

JANUARY 21, 1898

ORSON J.

BORN

JULY 13, 1847,

DIED MAR. 20, 1852

MARIA LOUISE

BORN

JAN. 15, 1849,

DIED JUNE 10, 1871.

CALVIN FISK

BORN

JUNE 15, 1851

DIED SEPT. 18, 1891.

The elaborately decorated white marble Phelps Family Monument in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, is a Victorian confection of design and funerary symbols, sculpted by Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti (1831?-1910) in Rome in 1876.  The monument is topped with the angel Gabriel with pelicans at his feet festooned with garlands of flowers.  Above the inscription on the face of the monument is the winged hourglass symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life on Earth and time itself.  The memorial features four allegorical figures representing four virtues—Hope, Faith, Charity, and Fortitude. Hope, Faith, and Charity are considered as the theological virtues which have been identified by Christians seeking to live a good and moral life.  Fortitude was considered a cardinal virtue by ancient Greek philosophers.

Hope

The representation of Hope can be easily found in American cemeteries.  Hope is most often portrayed as a woman standing and leaning against an anchor.  The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials.  The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.  Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift.

Faith

The figure holds a cross in her hand as she looks upwards to the Heavens. The Cross symbolizes her Christian faith. Often, Faith is also depicted carrying a palm which represents victory over death.  Another symbol often seen in conjunction with the cross is the laurel wreath, which dates to Roman times when soldiers wore them as triumphal signs of glory.

Charity

Quite often in Renaissance paintings, the figure of Charity is depicted as a woman breast-feeding an infant.  However, in the more staid and modest Victorian era, Charity is shown in the process of pulling her garment to one side to reveal her breast.  The allegorical figure can also be found holding food for the hungry or clothes for the unclothed.  The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, reckoned that charity was the most excellent of the virtues because it united man to God and that the habit of charity extended to love for one’s neighbor, as well as to God.

Fortitude

Fortitude is one of the cardinal virtues from classical philosophy. Plato wrote about the four cardinal virtues in The Republic which he identified as Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude.  Only Fortitude was assigned to the warrior class, hence the allegorical figure is often depicted wearing armor and carrying a shield and sometimes standing on a vanquished animal such as a lion.  However, in this example, she is depicted as a woman wearing classical robes with a club in one hand and what looks like a sheepskin in the other.  The theologian Saint Augustine wrote about Fortitude as being “love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object.”

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