The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Symbol of the Weeping Willow in Gravestone Art

     Carvings of weeping willows became very prevalent on gravestones in the early 19th century.  Use of this graceful symbol reflected the young United States’ growing interest in ancient Greece.  Beginning in 1762 with the publishing of The Antiquities of Athens by Stuart and Revett, which produced the first accurate surveys of ancient Greek architecture, Great Britain, Europe and eventually the United States began copying Greek style in architecture and interiors.  This emulation even carried over into funerary art.  For the United States, the comparison between ancient Greece and its democracy with the former colonists’ “grand new experiment” in government was inspiration for copying everything Greek.
     Gravestone carvers created weeping willows alone or with Greek-inspired urns, obelisks, or monuments.  The most obvious meaning of a weeping willow would seem to be the “weeping” part…for mourning or grieving for a loved one.  The saying “she is in her willows” implies the mourning of a female for a lost mate.  And while the Victorians took the art of mourning to new heights, the weeping willow was not just a symbol for sadness. 
     A native of Asia, the weeping willow is a fast growing tree that can reach fifty feet high and fifty feet wide.  It tolerates most any soil and roots easily from cuttings.  Because of this, they are often the first trees to appear in a disturbed site, giving them a reputation as “healers and renewers.” In many cultures, the willow is a sign of immortality, and is associated with the moon, water and femininity.  The weeping willow also has connections to Greece as Orpheus, their most celebrated poet, carried willow branches with him on his journey through the Underworld. The Greek sorceress Circe planted a riverside cemetery with willow trees, dedicated to Hecate and her moon magic.  It was common to place willow branches in the coffins of the dead, and then plant young saplings on their graves, with the belief that the spirit of the dead would rise up through the tree.
Zion Cemetery, Newfoundland, PA

Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Hellertown Union Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

Hornbaker Cemetery, Madisonville, PA

Lakeville Cemetery, Lakeville, PA

St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Ferndale, PA

St. Mark's Lutheran Cemetery, Appenzell, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

Tannersville Union Cemetery, Tannersville, PA

More Pictures of Weeping Willows


Anonymous said...

I've always loved willow trees. Not only are they incredibly beautiful, but there's just something mysterious and soulful about them. Tn Tree Farm Nursery

Andrea Pappas said...

Do you have a clearer picture of the fabulous headstone that is third from the bottom in your willow tree set? I'm interested in the motif of the willow tree, but especially this image of the woman by the plinth and the tree for a book I'm writing about embroidery (this motif turns up in late 18th C embroideries). These lovely stones make excellent comparisons to the embroideries and I am especially interested in tracking down more of these, particularly from the port towns of New England and the Connecticut River valley. If you don't mind helping out a researcher, please drop me a line at (art history professor)

Unknown said...

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