The Hovhannes S. Tavshanjian (1864-1907) monument in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, is a replica of an “Interesting and malleable monument” type I have identified and written about. This essay carries my research further, and although I will bring in comparative evidence here, it might be worth your while to consult my major statements on the topic linked at the bottom of this essay.
The plot is among the most attractive settings I have yet seen for one of these monument types—but then, Kensico is a great cemetery. The only other monument in the extended group under consideration that has as striking a physical setting is the Lister monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, N.Y., which I do not consider here.
What we have is a multi-tiered base that supports a stele which records Tavshanjian’s anagraphic data. The stele is about two times wider than deep, and a Tuscan column rises at each of its corners. The columns exhibit entasis and the echinus molding is articulated into egg and dart. Between the necking ring (which is elegantly echoed in a molding at the same height running around the stele) and the echinus are floral decorations (poppies, I think), one facing each major axis of the monument.
Above the columns stands an attic with dentils, and that is capped with a pulvinar-type ionic scroll of the sort we see on the sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus in the Vatican Museums. On the front architrave there are three swags tied together with ribbons and with florals descending between them. These are echoed by a single, larger swag that articulates the space of the stele and frames the anagraphic text. The swags are divided into ten bundles each on the architrave, and there are twenty-eight dentils in the attic; the large swag on the stele has eight bundles. The major swag on the stele descends in eighteen flowers.
Artistically, the female figure is the most interesting thing about the monument. She is seated on the tallest foundation member (it would be the die in a more standard monument) which is just tall enough to permit her outboard foot to rest on the foundation member bearing the name Tavshanjian.
The figure is turned to her left, and is posed on the left side of the monument. Her head, cast down, is propped upon her loosely clenched left hand. Her left arm is propped upon the foundation setback above her seat. These three setbacks of the base, therefore, have been adapted to the sitting posture of the life-sized figure; and so this human-scaled modulus effectively governs the monument’s other dimensions.
The figure has long hair which has been tied back into a bun behind the head; the lower half of the ear is exposed. The figure’s right arm emerges from a circle of cloth intended to be read as a pulled up, or rolled up sleeve. The hand reaches forward while clasping a laurel wreath. It appears we catch the figure at the moment of lowering the wreath onto one of the lower layers of the base. The figure’s right foot can be made out under the long gown, turned out from the mass it is seated upon. In the other close replicas of this type the feet, with sandals, are visible.
A rear view of the figure shows that it has been carved separately from the architectural portions of the monument and been caulked into place. The hips nearly, but do not quite fill the angular space in which the figure sits. In some similar monuments the figure’s hip gets carved into an L shape that caulks without space into the relevant setback.
This close-up view of the head and upper torso of the figure (figure 5) shows a face that is oval shaped, with understated lips that are lightly pursed. The orbits of the eyes are high and arching, though the left eye has been carved at the wrong angle, giving it the appearance of drooping. It’s worth remembering that the left eye would not have been visible to the casual viewer, and was harder to cut thanks to the arm on that side. So we can overlook the artistic inconsistency here.
The lower lids of the eyes have been cut so as to make them protrude slightly from the cheek and cast a shadow downwards. The effect is, I think, to give the impression of eyes reddened from weeping. The face is youthful and has a slightly rounded look of adipose. You can see this in the lack of modeling of the bones of the face and in the plump little curves around the edges of the mouth.
The frontal view permits us to see that, yes, her gown’s sleeves, which were not very long, have been rolled up out of the way. A bit of the sleeve material sticks out from the hem of the sleeve on the left side. The neck is surrounded by a wide collar gathering the cloth of the gown into fairly tight folds. The frontal drapery and the complicated hair arrangement provide a contrasting frame for the smooth, unwrinkled face.
I know of two other close replicas of this monument (and figure) type: the Shipley monument in Green Mount Cemetery (1904) and the Watts monument in Loudon Park Cemetery (1906), both in Baltimore, Maryland. Recall that Tavshanjian’s death in 1907 suggests a date in about that year for his monument.
Figures 7, 9, and 11 offer a comparison of the three replicas viewed frontally, and figures 8, 10, and 12 mark major sculpted similarities in the figures that put it beyond question that they go back to an original exemplar. The case would be more solid had I not taken the photographs with different lenses in different light and from slightly different angles.
The right profile of the figure reveals a straight profile line out of Greek classical portraits with little indentation at the root of the nose. The steeply carved lower eyelid can be made out better here, and the figure appears to have a slight overbite. Stray strands of hair can be seen behind the main gathering for the bun, descending into the ear, and in front of the ear. This matches the two loose strands arching away from the part of the hair over the forehead. The idea may be that grief has distracted this mourner from reflexive maintenance of her appearance (this is an old topos in mourning figures).
Let’s have a look at the three replicas under examination again, with my annotated lines marking major sculptural masses and lines.
To my eye, the two large twisted masses of hair over the right temple and the three gaps in the hair falling from the part at the crown of the head serve as well as anything in the frontal view to establish that these are indeed replicas of a common exemplar. The articulation of the bun is also distinctive and the same across the three replicas.
The dimensions of the monument as a whole varies even among the close replicas. For example, we had seen that the florals dropped in 18 units on the Tavshanjian stele; on the Shipley and Watts stelai, the drop is 13. 28 dentils span the front of the Tavshanjian attic; Shipley and Watts have 28; and on the sides, the dentils are 16-19-19 respectively. If we were to bring more monuments into comparison, we would find that the numbers vary even further. My best guess is that peculiarities of siting affect how square the monument is; the differences in treatment of the swags, or the floral drops more a matter of artistic variation from one work to another. These are, we should remember, one-off products of the human hand, even if that hand was aided by pneumatic and other machines.
Other essays on this monument type:
•An interesting and malleable monument type.
•The Lister monument, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, 1898. See here, too.
•The Kates monument, Laurel Hill Cemetery (1895) and Scharar monument (1898) in Dunmore Cemetery.