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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Canopy Gravestones: Architecture in the Cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A close-up of the lamb under the canopy grave above, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
Canopy gravestones are an example of architecture influencing funerary monument styles.   The most obvious architecture in cemeteries would be mausoleums, of course, a building that houses the remains of the deceased.  And while I like mausoleums, I love canopy gravestones more.  They seem more appropriate in garden cemeteries, as they are similar to pavilions or gazebos, with a roof supported by columns that create an airy yet sheltered space of repose.

Most canopy gravestones in the 19th century were inspired by the Classical Revival architectural style or the Gothic Revival style.  The ones I have seen are usually square or rectangular, and some of the carved decorative details (especially in the Gothic ones) are breath-taking.  I suspect also that canopy gravestones were influenced by canopy beds that were popular in the 19th century, as death was viewed as "the final rest." 

Another influence on the popularity of canopy graves might have been the Baldacchino, a gorgeously carved structure placed over the altar and tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica.  The pope commissioned one of my favorite artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, to create this tribute to St. Peter, and from 1624-1633, Bernini rose to the challenge.  Bernini's work fell out of favor in the 1700's, but late 19th century scholarship helped to elevate him back to an important artist.

File:Bernini Baldachino.jpg
Bernini's Baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

According to McDowell and Meyer in The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art, a canopy gravestone "shelters a grave and its marker or monument without the confinement or restriction of walls interfering with the visibility of the site.  Such a configuration, it was understood, invites interaction between viewer and monument."   Unfortunately, the benefit of a canopy gravestone also can be a detriment.  "Interaction" can be confused with "accessibility," and sometimes if there is something under the canopy (such as a carved statue or an urn), the item can be removed.  The item also can suffer from exposure to the weather, and parts of it can break off.  You'll see many examples of this below.  But I do like to imagine what was there originally, in all its carved marble splendor.  This blog subject was my dad's idea, so Pop, hope you liked it.

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Lucy Minturn Barnet died when she was about 20 months old.  Someone has left flowers on her grave once a year for many, many years, and the cemetery workers never see the mourner.  When I took this picture, Lucy had been gifted with children's toys and hair barrettes.  Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

A draped urn has broken off from its stand under the canopy.  Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Look to the left, on the ground:  a massive urn lies broken.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

A front view.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

A sleeping child, Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehigton, PA

Hill Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

The grave of Alfred Theodore Miller.  The statue is attributed to a well-known German sculptor named Frederick Pettrich.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

"Our Charlie" is no longer in statue form under his canopy grave, unfortunately.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A sleeping lamb.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Was there ever something under this canopy?  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Mr. Archer has lost his head.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

This one is intriguing.  The broken obelisk would have been on the top.  Is that an egg in the middle??  And there are pieces of marble in the bottom section.  Definitely could use some detective work here.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Maple Grove Cemetery, Pleasant Mount, PA

Milford Cemetery, Milford, PA

Beautiful Gothic Canopy with a classical urn.  New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA
Another headless statue.  Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

A draped urn, but I only took a picture of the back of it, sorry!  St. Mary of Mount Carmel Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Ah, Gothic!  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

I think this might have had "bed rails" in the front on the bottom.  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

What used to be here?  Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

 There was something under this canopy at one time, as you can see the oval.  What was it?  Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

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