DIED APRIL 5, 1899.
AGE 35 YEARS & 11 DAYS.
The Gerould angel in Woodlawn Cemetery stands out against the sea of languid mourning figures (‘weepers’ as these conventional female figures are called: figure 2 is a good example) that dot our cemeteries because of the way it is tensed up and turned inward like a tightly wound spring. The inwardly pulled wings, the arms clasped together with bulging muscles, and the tightly crossed legs are so unusual that they demand an unconventional explanation.
The Gerould angel’s long trumpet at its left side puts it into the category of angels tasked with delivering the ‘last trump’; some traditional Christians believe that the resurrection will be signaled by an angel’s trumpet blast. Gravely Speaking offers a good illustrated discussion of this category of angel and reports on the results of a study by Elisabeth Roarke in the taphophile journal Markers (XXIV, 2007 56-111).
Yet these ‘last trump’ angels are mostly as conventional as the ‘weepers’. The Coyle monument’s angel, a fine example in Philadelphia’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (figure 3), is for all practical purposes identical to the third angel in the Gravely Speaking discussion linked above. In other words, these angels are mass produced and cannot symbolize much of anything more particular than ‘resurrection’. The Gravely Speaking discussion also illustrates in its first figure that the ‘last trump’ angel can be contaminated (in the art historical sense) with characteristics of the ‘weepers’.
The compressed energy of the Gerould figure makes us ask what will happen when the figure released. I presume the angel is gathering its forces for the signal to blow the last trump. We know not the day nor the hour of the call, but the angel’s posture puts us on our guard (and best behavior). It’s a type of memento mori, therefore: instead of the anodyne message most of these angels’ display, “Don’t grieve. There will be a resurrection and you’ll all be reunited,” we have here a message more like, “Watch out! There’s going to be a resurrection and last judgment.”
By chance I watched the Grave Explorations YouTube video tour of Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis, discovering that the cemetery possesses a replica of the Gerould type on the monument of H.C. Luyties (1871-1921). That one is in a niche protected by glass, and unlikely stories of the figure being a lost love interest of his are told. So storied, in fact, is the Luyties angel, that immediately other examples pop: see Gravely Speaking‘s discussion with a second example from Bellefontaine (C.E. [1842-1928] and E.M. [1840-1899] Hilts monument), and one from Green-Wood (J.C. [1837-1924] and V. [died 1912] Maben).
A commenter on that post points to Giulio Monteverde’s ‘Angel of the Resurrection’ (1882) on the Oneto monument in Staglieno Camposanto in Genova, Italy (figure 4). Although the Gerould angel is more muscular, the artist took pains to reproduce the Oneto monument, and we even see the Greek wave pattern running along the upper edge of the altar.
The following list gives what I think was the order of erecting of the various monuments. I assume that the monuments reflect the earlier of the deaths they directly commemorate (i.e., whichever of a husband or wife died first). Of course, this is a simplifying assumption, and so I’ve used the style of the monument to refine or confirm my estimates where possible.
Oneto 1882 figure 4
Gerould 1899 figure 1
Hilts 1899 figure 5
Maben 1912 figure 7
Luyties 1921 figure 6
Monteverde’s Oneto figure is the 1882 archetype. All of the replicas listed here share its pose with head tilted down and eyes looking out from under the brow. The Gerould replica is more muscular than any of the others, while the hair of the Hilts bronze, as is common for that medium, has been treated in an incised way rather than with the three-dimensional modeling we see in the marble replicas.
The modeling of the drapery is reasonably consistent. Look, for example, at the series of five dark folds created by the tension of the left knee. These are best exposed in the Maben replica. More importantly, the central fold forks into two folds as that bit of drapery circles the figure around to its right side; this is visible in all replicas and the archetype, and faithfulness in this small detail suggests the faithfulness of the copying elsewhere.
See, too, the deep fold in the drapery that appears to extend down from, and continue the shape of, the angel’s left wing. Here, too, the Maben figure exhibits this pattern most faithfully.
The Luyties figure is, of course, not sculpted as an angel: the wings and trumpet have been removed and the artist has expanded the drapery behind the figure to give the proper massing and balance. We do not need to accept any of the apocryphal stories about the Luyties’ figure’s history to nevertheless say that the sculptor was commissioned to adapt the Oneto archetype into a femme fatale, for example by turning the right hand ninety degrees so as to express a delicate finger-pinching gesture instead of holding the trumpet. This kind of analysis would be easier, of course, if the glass were not obscuring the Luyties figure.
The Luyties replica thus best evokes the eroticism of the Oneto figure; this eroticism is dimmed in the Hilts and Maben replicas and well-nigh absent in the Gerould one. Have a look in Ghislaine Wood’s Art Nouveau and the Erotic (Abrams, 2000) for comparable femmes fatales. It’s also worth a look in David Robinson’s Saving Graces (W.W. Norton, 1995), a photographic study of mostly nineteenth-century erotic female grieving figures found in French and Italian cemeteries. Robinson distinguishes the often frankly erotic females in his collection from angels because (obvious things like wings aside) “angels are demure,” whereas Joyce Carol Oates notes in her foreword to Robinson’s book that the ‘Saving Graces’ pose “as if grief were a form of erotic surrender.”
The Monteverde angel, by contrast, seems to straddle the line between the conventional angel and Robinson’s ‘Saving Graces’, enough so that conventional American tastes could be satisfied by dimming the eroticism down, whereas the type could be readily adapted into a femme fatale.
As a final note, while I still think my analysis of the Gerould replica is true (tension signifying gathering forces for the resurrection), Monteverde’s original is more slinky and casual in all respects. Only the Maben figure, closest to the Gerould type, might also be using tension and musculature to make a point.