Here is the attractive mausoleum (figure 1) of the Chung family, in Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, VA. It is quite recent.
I’d call the design here neo-baroque. The baroque is, among many other things, stagey. I mean that literally: it tries to impress and astound us with a variety of tricks, and often it treats architecture as a sort of stage set.
So, for example, you can see that not much is going on in the rear of the building (figure 2). The water table course in rusticated stone is carried around from the façade, but otherwise we have barren, polished flat surfaces, with no attempt to carry through the columned details of the front. It’s also clear that the little ‘wings’ jutting out at ground level from the edges of the façade are merely flat extensions that have been glued to the building and have no structural purpose.
So, looking at figure 1 again:
We see that almost all of the architect’s effort has gone into creating an interesting façade. The barren treatment of the rear could have been carried through the front, as well, yet the designer has chosen to create a lively interplay of colors, textures, and shapes, and has drawn from a palette of false elements (remember those ‘wings’ sticking off the sides of the front) to achieve an impressive effect.
First, consider the geometry of the approach. The benches and, more importantly, the pathway establish a set of converging lines (thanks to perspective) that center on the doorway, and the space within the mausoleum. The columns, ‘wings,’ rays from the sun, patterns on the doors, centered name, and the pediment support this by their symmetry. So do the two rough-hewn verticals on either side of the door frame.
If you look closely at figure 3, you will see that the rusticated verticals are not parallel to the façade but recede as they approach the axis of symmetry, creating an angled setback that further emphasizes the door. The lighter color of the rusticated verticals, which contrasts with the speckled polished taupe of the rest of the façade, aids in putting the emphasis on the entry.
Yet were you to get close to the façade you would see that the columns are caulked (that is, effectively glued) to the walls (figure 4).
The notion behind a column is that it is supporting something, like an architrave. Yet we commonly find walls supporting the roof with fake ‘engaged’ columns, effectively half columns doing nothing structural, left ‘standing’ on the outer side of the functioning walls. In fact, they are just vertical bosses in the shape of half-columns which haven’t been cut away from the otherwise flat wall.
Visually these add bling and may just fool someone into thinking that something much more costly is going on than really is. Our architect has gone one step cheaper: Onto the big empty polished slabs of granite which make up the walls of the façade she or he has caulked appliqué granite half-columns. Much cheaper than carving slabs with stone in the shape of columns still a part of it. The innermost parts of the wall slabs were then ‘shaved’ by being ground down into those matte verticals, and the ‘wings’ that frame the façade and make it ‘pop’ were added. Cumulatively all of these staged effects act like a drumroll as we look at, approach, and then open the door to the mausoleum.
I’m pretty sure the ‘wings’ allude to the famous scrolls on the Gesù in Rome or one of the countless other baroque counter-reformation churches copying it across Europe. You can see them in figures 5 and 6, where they are scrolls to the sides of the second story of the façade. To save cost, our architect has reduced them to slabs bounded by straight lines or shallow curves (figure 7). The scrolls do no more on the façade of the Gesù than the ‘wings’ do on the Chung mausoleum: it’s all stage-setting. I admit I like the way the outermost vertical face of the wings are rusticated like the water table course.
All of the foregoing serves to set the stage for our entrance into the mausoleum, and for the surprise that awaits us on-axis there: the Chungs’ portraits in stained glass (figure 8).
The Chungs have done something you hardly ever see, which is to have their portraits in the customary rear window of their mausoleum. What’s more, they’ve had them executed, probably digitally, from a photograph (figures 8, 10). The one previous stained glass portrait I’ve encountered, in the Artman mausoleum in West Laurel Hill (figure 9), was certainly painted by an artist in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Maybe the Chung portrait is a copy of a single photograph of them both, or it maybe it’s a combination of two portraits that gave what the artist felt was the most flattering view of each. However that may be, the couple is posed leaning toward one another as a symbol of marriage and comity. The fictive part of the window (sky, clouds, landscape, flowers) is done in simple, even primitive style, in contrast to the couple. Their faces unsurprisingly have photographic realism, as does her neck with the very fine detail of the pendant cross. Because I think the facial features and hair were not artistic choices, I will not offer my usual formal description. Nevertheless, the choice of picture(s) to use was genial.
The clothing, which is also very summarily designed into only a few large glass pieces, may or may not repeat what was in the photographic source(s). For what it is worth, looking closely, I believe that the suit and the dress have both been painted in a relatively simple style. The simple, large flowers on the dress seem to me to consciously echo the big simple flowers in the landscape (though the ones on the dress are in a different style suited to a fabric. His tie is wild.
Figure 10 is poor in that the bronze pattern on the door did not allow me to get a photograph of the entire interior. The photo is skewed to the left side of the room. The transmitted light through the bronze doors and the same light reflected on the polished marble also make things harder to parse. Aside from the play in different colors, I note the altar-like table below the window which would hold portrait busts had they opted for that route of commemoration.
The Chung mausoleum therefore offers us an example of a funerary portrait that was specifically made for the mausoleum, but at the same time is directly modeled after a photograph made for some unrelated purpose. Inasmuch as it is the centerpiece of the entire mausoleum, it is clearly a very costly portrait; but the original photograph(s) was/were of negligible cost, as opposed to the carved portrait busts I usually show you.
As with all of these portraits, there seems to have been a concern among the decedents or their posthumous commemorators to give them some form of life in the tomb with a portrait. But did the decedents commemorate themselves in a conspicuously consumptive way before death? For the Chungs, the answer appears to be no. The photographic models for this window could have been displayed (if they were) in a simple silver frame. Nevertheless they have left behind pleasant portraits which were a pleasure to discover.