Ghoolish Gravestone Art

Dr. Lori takes a grave look at some unusual artwork.

As Halloween approaches, we are interested in all things spooky.

Since art is everywhere, I thought a discussion of the art found in one of the spookiest of locales might prove of interest - graveyard art. Carved grave markers and sculpted headstones that dot cemeteriesí landscapes have a rich history.

The first grave markers were actually boulders.

These great stones were thought to be a good solution to keep the dead from rising out of their graves. It was thought that if heavy rocks were placed on the gravesites of the deceased, they would not be able to climb out from underneath them. These early grave markers were not highly decorative, but that tradition changed by the onset of the 16th century.


Early Gravemarkers

The living felt the need to mark graves with stones as a reminder of the person buried there. Many American artisans responsible for gravestone carving were masons or stoneworkers. Gravestones were carved with frightful motifs like angels of death and winged skeletons. Some of the most popular imagery found on gravestones relates to death and the journey from this world to the otherworld.

From circa 1700 to 1780, some of the popular images on gravestones were skull and crossbones. The symbolism apropos for a grave marker was that the skull of the deceased would have wings that would fly his or her soul to heaven.

Some of the more common motifs found on gravestones include hourglasses, a symbol of the passage of time, and youthful winged figures reserved for those who died young.

In the early 1800s, flowers, weeping willow trees, and classical urns offered a more classical view of death than earlier gravestones.


Victorian Gravestones

By the Victorian period, circa 1838-1901, the references to death on gravestones emerge as far less frightening and intimidating than earlier examples.

The highlight of graveyard artistry came in the latter part of the 1800s when more people visited graveyards. Cemeteries became more survivor-friendly. Graveyards evolved into tree-filled park settings. Many cemeteries emerged as highly appropriate sites to host a Sunday picnic at the flower-decorated grave of a loved one.

Grieving angels, classical muses, and sleeping children all took their place in early 20th Century gravestone art. Spilled flowers and broken columns were common symbols of a life ended too soon. In addition, subject matter such as opened books, broken tools, or other images indicating work left incomplete was selected by grieving families to represent the contributions of a dearly missed loved one.

This Halloween, remember to take a moment and consider the spooky yet sensational works of art of your local graveyard.


Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on the hit TV show, Auction Kings on Discovery channel.  Learn about your antiques at www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.


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