Monday, December 4, 2017

Monumental Portrayals of Mourning and Victory

     In the event that something memorable happens in history, it is common for a monument to be erected to commemorate the occasion. I have found that two of the most common events for which statues are created are celebrations of victory or loss of men in battle. The statues usually depict a female embodying either the emotion victory or grief. In the past, the female form has been used to allegorize emotions, and the statues in this curation do just that. I have chosen to present different monuments from different artists and time periods to show how the two elements, mourning and victory, have been depicted by sculptors. The last work in this curation, however, is a sculpture created by Daniel Chester French entitled Mourning Victory that was created as a funerary monument to commemorate lost lives in the Civil War. This piece elegantly combines both emotions of mourning and victory in ways that we see those emotions expressed separately in the other works in this curation. French’s combination of the two in this sculpture emphasize the triumph at winning the war, but the agony that came from losing loved ones. While the depictions of grief and triumph that are displayed separately in the monuments shown in this curation are convincing in their conveyance of the allegory that they represent, Daniel Chester French’s Mourning Victory expertly blends the two sentiments into one piece, portraying both Grief and Victory.

Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Grief, 1898, Marble
     This statue is the first one in the curation that symbolizes grief. The position in which the statue finds herself is one that I am most familiar with in regard to overwhelming, crushing grief. She is folded over onto herself, internalizing the depths of despair that she clearly feels. In many other statues that depict mourning, the facial expression of the subject are often how the message of sadness is conveyed, but in this example, the face of Mackennal’s figure cannot be seen. We understand her grief through her lack of bodily expression, as she contains her anguish by balling up.

Albert Toft, “South African War Memorial (Boer War Memorial)”, 1908, Bronze, Eastern Side of monument
     The heaviness of grief is shown on this statue by Albert Toft by the expressionlessness of his allegorical female statue. It is almost as if the sorrow is too much for her to even react. Much like Mourning Victory by Daniel Chester French, the figures eyes are hooded and downcast, seeming to almost be closed. The figure’s shoulders are slumped, and a hand that holds a wreath falls to her side. Because of its position, this wreath potentially suggests that what once was victory, is now defeat.

Joseph Crosland McClure, Leicester South African (Boer) War Memorial, 1909, Bronze
     This piece, similar to statues of the allegory of victory, has one arm outstretched. The figure is clearly grieving in a very physically outward sense. She truly captures the sentiment of lament as she uses the entirety of her body to portray her despair. She is lost in her grief, so much so that the cloth that she was once wearing has fallen around her waist, and she seems to have not even noticed. Despite the fact that all three of the piece as the allegory of Grief or Mourning are conveying the same sentiment, this statue is definitely the most active. 

John Angel, Exeter War Memorial, 1923, 8’, Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, Devon
     This depiction of Victory is one that I have found to be quite common. She crowns the top of a monument dedicated to the soldiers who laid down their lives for the city of Exeter, Devon. She is cast in bronze with one arm outstretched, bearing a laurel branch used as an offering of gratitude to Heaven. She stands upon allegorical representations of Tyranny and Wrong, further solidifying her victory. Though this monument was erected as a commemoration of the fallen, the appearance of Victory symbolizes that the lives of the soldiers were not lost in vain, and that because of their sacrifice, the people of Exeter could live in peace.

Sir Thomas Brock, Queen Victoria Memorial, 1906-1924, Buckingham Palace, London, England
     Victory sits atop a monument dedicated to the life and reign of Queen Victoria in England. Many different allegorical figures are seated around the monument, but the winged depiction of Victory summits the entirety of the work. This is quite common for a symbol such as Victory. She is usually found floating somewhere above the work, in this case, symbolizing the eternality of the impact that Queen Victory had on her subjects and country. She also bares a branch of sorts, and because this is common amongst allegorical depictions of Victory, it can be assumed that it is a type of gratitude offering to Heaven.

Matthew Noble, Wellington Monument, 1856, Bronze, Piccadilly, Manchester
     This statue is an interesting one because the female figure that depicts victory is so uncharacteristic of the others that we have seen. She is seated in an upright position, and she shows no dramatic gesture to symbolize her triumph. She is calm and demure, with the only symbols of victory being the wreaths that she has; one on her head and the other in her right hand. The wreaths are made from oak leaves which are themselves a symbol of British success. I especially like this version of Victory because she is untraditional. We are still able to tell, without a doubt, which allegory she embodies, but her posture and lack of wings are so unassuming that she could be taken for a seated woman, and not for the allegory of Victory.

Daniel Chester French, Mourning Victory, 1906-1908, carved 1912-1915, Marble, 120 ½ x 57 ¼ x 28 ¾ in., 15.75
     The final piece in this curation is a combination of the previous six statues. Mourning Victory was carved as a war monument, just as some of the others were, but she is unique in that both triumph and grief show through her figure. Just like Albert Toft’s version of grief, French’s female figure has downcast eyes that demonstrate the idea of loss. Like John Angel’s statue, Victory, French’s sculpture has one arm outstretched, carrying a laurel. In viewing other depictions of mourning and victory, it is easy to see how Daniel Chester French combined these elements to create a striking figure that represents Mourning and Victory.

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