I have by now seen many a funerary portrait. I’ve seen busts that were made for the mausoleum, and others that I suspect were de-accessioned from the family collection and lodged in the tomb. And, of course, there are the many bas-relief portraits, and even a few bronze busts that were built into, or atop of, a monument. I’ve even seen a few full length portrait figures. But what I’ve not yet seen is a monument with a niche built into its outer surface to hold a portrait bust on a bust foot.
Frederick Raine was from Minden, Prussia, born in May 1821, and died in February 1898. His wife Pamelia lived to 1911, and so I suspect that she was responsible for this monument. In any event, accompanying the bust are a number of conventional images: palm frond of victory for a life well lived; Easter lily for resurrection, and disembodied quill writing the deeds of his life in conjunction with the symbol of resurrection. The sum of it all is: “he was a good Christian (due reward to be administered).”
That he might have been, but what detains us here is his portrait bust. It’s marble, and predictably, since it’s exposed to the elements, it’s decaying. The face has largely melted, and while the clothing still possesses some sharpness of detail, one can see that water has attacked it wherever it could get a purchase.
The face is oval, though the tall forehead, merging into a bald pate, gives the head a round look. Short hair remains at the temples and above the ears. What is left of the ears does not stick out. There is a little adipose under the chin, and the naso-labial folds are prominent. The close-set, deeply carved eyes appear to have had crows feet. The face is clean shaven except for a walrus mustache that curls down around the corners of the mouth. The mouth itself is not wide, and with the close-set eyes it gives the face a narrow, pinched look. Not enough material remains for me to judge whether there were other signs of age: slackened skin, sagging jowls, pouches under the eyes, and so forth. The neck is smooth.
The clothing is the usual package for the late-nineteenth century: heavy coat (buttoned up) over a barely visible vest, with a bow tie with a fat knot over a turned-out collar. It’s not clear to me whether the collar ever had points or not. If it did, those vulnerable protuberances have not survived. The modeling of the cloth of the coat indicates a stocky, but not fat torso underneath.
The look appears to have been one of polite interest without an emotional engagement, which is also the default for these portraits. The bust foot is round and typical of these portraits. I was able to get quite close, but I saw no traces of a signature on the bust. I don’t think it would survive the weathering the object has undergone, but as you can imagine, I wasn’t about to get in there and shift the thing around to look.
And I could have, which brings me to an important point. The damage to this bust appears almost entirely due to natural weathering and not vandalism. I am frankly astonished that the bust is still there.
What does such an unusual monument tell us? Well, before looking for an answer, it is important to acknowledge that I don’t know whether the bust was created for this monument, or whether it was taken from the household and incorporated into a monument built to receive it. It is possible to say that the monument was designed to receive a bust. A niche like that serves a purpose and is not decorative in itself. There are plenty of obelisks that have bas-relief portraits on their surfaces, even in Green Mount, so there were models for the idea of obelisk-plus-portrait, even if not for the bust-in-niche type here.
One can point to mausolea with formally incorporated portraits of the entire family, or the husband and wife, such as the Bowman mausoleum in Cuttingsville, VT (figure 4) or the Harrah mausoleum in Bala Cynwyd, PA (figure 5). I’m certain in the case of the first, and reasonably sure in the case of the second of those mausolea that the busts were made on the occasion of the construction of the mausoleum to fill ready-made niches.
Then there is the Rouss mausoleum in Winchester, VA, where the mausoleum has not been adapted specifically to hold portrait busts, but busts have been added in a relatively formal way by placing them on seriously massive free-standing columns in the chamber (figure 6). They are not matched, as the Bowman and Harrah busts are (see the bust feet), and in addition, smaller busts of the sons of the principals have been placed in something of an ad-hoc way on a shelf at the rear of the mausoleum.
My working hypothesis these days is that Rouss had the busts moved into the mausoleum which was built on the occasion of his wife’s death in 1899 (he died in 1902), and that they had been household decorations before that.
I don’t know what percentage of the motivation for putting busts into a mausoleum was to have an image of the deceased that the grieving could take comfort in viewing, and how much was to leave a lasting “Ozymandias” record of him/her/themselves. Of course, mixed motives are entirely possible and probable.
Raine raises the same questions. Certainly Mrs. Raine, who substantially outlived him, had a monument built to feature a portrait bust, as mentioned above. She could not afford, or refused to pay for a mausoleum, but clearly wanted Raine’s portrait to be visible. But why not have the portrait carved on the surface of the monument? Was there an obvious bright line in prestige and status between portraits in the round and bas-relief ones? To be sure, a portrait in the round is more complicated and expensive than a bas relief. Yet we can find people of indisputable wealth or status opting for a bas-relief, such as on the Walters’ monument in Green Mount (in her case, in bronze).
Mostly, I don’t think these questions can be answered definitively. But I do look to Victorian sentimentality—think of those little lockets they carried around for decades with images (and maybe a snippet of hair) of dead family members—and the immediacy of grief in the face of the recent death of a (say) spouse as perhaps offering clues. Whatever hopes for immortality the portraits sustained, I think the survivor took comfort in being able to come to the tomb (something people regularly did then and now) and look upon a likeness of the dead. In Bowman’s case we have explicit evidence that he did just that.