Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grave images: Urn and willow

One of the most common gravestone images in the early to mid-1800s is the urn and willow. Its popularity is said to be associated with the rise of neoclassicism in Europe.

The urn, likely a reference to the ancient Grecian funerary urn, represents the soul. The willow, in addition to its strong visual suggestion of sorrow and mourning, may be a reference to the Greek goddess Persephone, queen of the underworld. Together the urn and willow would thus symbolize the passing of the soul to the afterlife.

Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, but consider this reasonable caution from The Association of Gravestone Studies:

“Professional scholars disagree sharply about the meaning of particular designs; they even debate the extent to which it is possible to determine their meaning and significance. This healthy diversity of opinion stimulates interest and further study.”

Rebecca Hyde, Cheshire Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio
Samuel Monroe, Ashley Union Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio
Rebecca Ranney, Oak Grove Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio
James and Mary Ferson, Africa Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio

1 comment:

  1. "Professional scholars ... debate the extent to which it is possible to determine their meaning and significance." Most of the interpretations of grave symbols I have seen are speculation. But since grave motifs recur so frequently, I wonder if 19th century masons or funeral directors published anything which set out the contemporary understanding of what these motifs meant?


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