Professor John Oakley - 2015

Aspects of Antiquity - September 10

The Influence of Greek Sculpture on American Tombstones

Although there has been much research on American grave monuments, and a general picture of the changing tastes in their nature and style has been well observed, no study yet has focused on how Greek sculpture influenced American gravestones. What I present in this lecture is the first attempt to do so.

The earliest American gravestones have little which is Greek, but this started to change in the last decades of the 18th century, as neoclassical art started to have an influence on the motifs found on gravestones. With the introduction of “Rural or Garden Cemeteries”, a change which corresponded roughly with the rise in popularity of Greek Revival Architecture, gravestones based directly on ancient Greek prototypes start to appear. These include simple rectangular stelai, palmette stelai, pedimental stealai, and naiskoi stelai. Some are nearly exact copies of surviving ancient works, such as the gravestone based on the “Calvert Stele” in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Others mark the graves of famous men, such as that on the tomb of our 27th President, William Howard Taft (1857-­1930) in Arlington National Cemetery. Most date between the late 19th century and the 1930’s, a time span when Greek Revival architecture became very popular again, and when Victorian values prevailed valorising all things Greek and leading to self-identification with ancient Greece. One suspects that in most cases these American classicizing monuments, which have never been properly collected or studied, were meant to serve that role.

Humanities Seminar Series - September 11

'Scenes from Daily Life on Athenian Vases'

9:30am Arts Lecture Theatre 3