Victorian mourning in art

 A popular epitaph

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare for death and follow me.”

                            

youngwidow_johnson

The Young Widow 1877, exchanging the wedding gown for mourning

The Victorian preoccupation with death is reflected in the art of the period.  Photographs, paintings, death portraits, steel engravings, lithographs, etchings, and other art forms embraced the most sentimental and heartrending portrayals of loss and bereavement.

These works by both amateurs and the great artists such as Landseer and the Pre-Raphaelites were displayed in the parlor or sometimes in the bedchamber as a perpetual reminder that death is always with us.

oldshepherd_landseer

The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner by Landseer

Animals and children were especially popular as subjects to portray pathos and grieving.

Advertisements

Symbolism in Stone

scrollanddove.jpg

Oak Grove is a non-denominational city cemetery. The majority of burials here could be classified as Protestant-affiliated. Saint Patrick’s cemetery in the north end of the city as well as several Roman Catholic church cemeteries within the city contain the remains of most of the city’s Catholic population. So it is not surprising that saints, angels and crosses are very few within the walls of Oak Grove. Tablet-shaped stones and obelisks are the favored shapes to be found, even among the stones from the 1855-1900.

madonna.jpg

The only figural madonna at Oak Grove

Granite, marble and the very durable metallic monuments compose the majority of markers. The great beauty of Oak Grove lies in the landscaping of the grounds and the intricate carvings and symbolism on many of the older stones. Although there are sections of contemporary, fairly nondescript markers in the northeast end, the great majority of grave markers in this cemetery are from the golden age of monument carving when hand tools were used and artistry and pride of workmanship were the key elements of the craft. The Fall River area was famous for granite, especially pink granite, and this ready resource is much-evident in use.  The slide presentation above contains many of the symbols associated with fraternal orders and particular Victorian sentiments and virtues.

Anchor- Steadfastness, Hope, a maritime career

Bellflower-Constancy and gratitude

Calla lily- Majesty, Beauty, Marriage

Daisy- Innocence, grave of young child, the “day’s eye”

Fern- Frankness, Humility, Sincerity

Laurel (wreath) Victory, Immortality, Eternity

Lily of the Valley- Innocence, Purity, one of the first Spring flowers

Lyre- References a harp, heaven, angelic music, occasionally used on the grave of a poet.

Madonna Lily- Purity

Rose- Univeral symbol of Love, queen of flowers, used most often on graves of women

Wheat or wheat sheaf- Long life, the reaping of years, productive and abundant

Oak leaves- Strength, Endurance, Faith and Virtue

Open Book- Book of Life, List of St. Peter, life of the deceased as an open book, a pure  life

Tree or log stones- These could be ordered from Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and were used for the Woodsmen fraternity as well as carpenters, builders, lumbermen, or to suggest by their height as short life cut off in its prime, head of the family, and occasionally contains a nest with birds suggesting children of the deceased.

Dove- Most popular animal seen in cemeteries, symbolizes Peace, Holy Spirit

Hands Clasping- An earthly farewell, a heavenly welcome or matrimony

Curtain, Drapery, Veil- Passing from one existence to another, an ending

Hourglass- Fleeting Time, Tempus Fugit, inevitability of earthly Death

Door, arch, gateway- Passing from one existence to the next

Ship- Seafaring life, a journey, or symbol for the Chirch universal with the mast as the cross

Torch-  Upside down position has the meaning of extinguished life.

Pine Tree- Evergreen, Eternal

The Funeral Card

funcard1.jpg

 

Victorians liked keepsakes of all kinds.  The idea of some sort of printed memorial which could be tucked into family Bibles, placed on mantels in the parlor, and kept for the future generations found great favor in the nineteenth century. The custom of funeral cards is still observed today although the size and intricacy of the funeral card has changed.  Today we often find the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, or a contemporary poem along with the deceased’s dates, name and age.  The Victorian and early twentieth century cards were on very heavy stock and featured the symbolism Victorians understood, such as the opening gate, cross and crown, dove of the spirit, laurel wreath etc.  Suitable mourning poetry was nearly always included below the name and dates of the departed Loved One. Early cards were generally in either black or white with gold or silver lettering.  (Examples from the blogger’s collection).

 

 

funcard21.jpg

funcard31.jpg

Postmortem Photography

Today’s culture is one of everlasting youth and denial of mortality. For us, postmortem photography may seem distasteful and unsettling.  The Victorians, however, were no strangers to death- and death among the very young was an every day occurence. 

The Victorian parlor became the memorial space to display mementoes of every single life, no matter how brief, and great love and care went into arranging the deceased as beautifully as could be done for these photographs.  Many appear to be merely sleeping peacefully. Photographs of children and infants were particularly heart-wrenching, as some grieving mothers tenderly held their little ones for the first and last time in these images. 

These cabinet photographs were framed and displayed on mantels and parlor tables throughout the years, just as if the images recorded there were still part of the family. Smaller portraits were given out to mourning family members to be worn in lockets, often with a curl of hair.  Hair jewelry became an art form of intricate workmanship by loving hands which has never seen an equal since the nineteenth century. 

The Dead were gone- but never forgotten in the hearts of their families.  Every life mattered very much, and its loss felt and remembered forever.

our-darling.jpg  “Our Darling”