Today’s post examining the Egyptian revival mausoleum of William Stuart comes to you thanks to the efforts of three scholars at the University of Edinburgh: Genevieve Bucher, Mariangela Alejandro Cortez, and Katherine Liu, to whom I am most indebted.
William Stuart (1820-1888) built an “Egyptian portal to the land of the dead” in The Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh when his wife Susan died in 1868 (figure 1). The architect was Robert Thomson, as can be seen inscribed on the upper left corner of the rusticated base in figure 6).
The central façade is remarkable for its traditional Egyptian false door which here stands ajar. The Egyptians felt that it allowed the spirits of the deceased within to exit so as to partake in funerary commemorations and otherwise have access to the world outside the tomb. We see such a false door in the Middle-Kingdom wooden coffin of Khnumnakht in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, for example (figure 3).
The Met coffin also depicts the door embedded in a larger architectural superstructure marked by serried verticals spanned at intervals by horizontals. One imagines that this is a representation of a wooden structure, or rather, a stylized, possibly mannered representation of one (figures 2, 4).
The implied Egyptian ambient of the mausoleum is underscored by the sumptuous date palm carven in high relief in front of the false door. Its organic forms catch the eye immediately and set the mausoleum off from its neighbors.
Obelisks frame the false door, their symmetry broken by the conceit that each has been broken off at a different height. The conceit is that time has visited its usual destruction upon the tomb, the break also signifying lives broken off. The palm, too, is manifestly an invader, having grown to block the false door of the untended tomb (figure 2). The text on the body of the right (primary) obelisk:
DIED 1ST APRIL 1888
AET 69 YEARS.
THEIR THIRD SON
DIED 3RD JUNE 1916
AET 55 YEARS.
HIS BELOVED WIFE
SUE C. WILLIAMS
OF BALTIMORE, USA.
DIED 23RD AUGUST 1949
AET 80 YEARS.
THEIR FIFTH SON
DIED 5TH MARCH 1936.
THEIR ONLY DAUGHTER
DIED 6TH DECEMBER 1936.
JOHN JAMES SON OF
DIED 8TH JUNE 1964.
Below the obelisk, on its base (figure 6):
SECOND SON OF
WILLIAM AND SUE STUART
2ND LIEUT, 3RD BATT. THE BLACK WATCH R. H.
ATTD [..] BATT 15TH SCOTTISH DIVISION
KILLED IN ACTION 28TH JULY 1918
AT BUZANCY, FRANCE
BURIED BUSANCY CEMETERY
AET 20 YEARS.
THIRD SON OF WILLIAM AND SUE STUART
MAJOR 1ST BATT. THE GORDON HIGHLANDERS
DIED ON ACTIVE SEVICE 5TH AUGUST 1940
BURIED AT RAMICH MILITARY CEMETERY
AET 34 YEARS.
On the doormat stone in front of the palm (figure 8):
WILLIAM STUART D.S.O.
ELDEST SON OF WILLIAM AND SUE STUART
DIED 12TH SEPT. 1976 AGED 80 YEARS.
On the left-hand obelisk (figure 9):
SARAH ANN BRIDGES
THE BELOVED WIFE
WILLIAM STUART ESQ.
DIED 22ND AUGUST 1868
AET 42 YEARS.
THEIR ELDEST SON
DIED 18TH OCTOBER 1874
AET 16 YEARS.
THEIR SECOND SON
DIED 21ST AUGUST 1909
AET 50 YEARS.
MARY BEATRICE CRAUFORD
WIFE OF THE ABOVE
DIED 5TH MARCH 1936.
As a reward for reading through all of that anagraphic data I add here (figure 10) an image close-up of the decoration within the notional wooden superstructure surrounding the false door.
OH! You’re wondering about the title of this essay. Well you see William made his pile with net weaving machines.