Mount Auburn’s collection of monuments and funerary art give meaning and spiritual significance to the Cemetery’s historic landscape. Dating from the early 19th century through to today, every memorial contributes to the qualities that help make the Cemetery “a site of comfort and inspiration to the bereaved and the public as a whole.” The wide-ranging diversity represented in the monuments, from contemporary flush markers to lavish Victorian sculptures, helps create the aesthetic richness and unique texture of Mount Auburn’s designed landscape.
Preserving our historic monuments and buildings is a priority, and a challenge. After years of exposure to New England weather, many monuments, particularly marble memorials, now require an extra level of care and maintenance to protect and stabilize them. Beginning in 2014, the Friends of Mount Auburn has been working closely with Cemetery preservation and curatorial staff on a multi-year initiative to raise funds to conserve the most significant monuments on our grounds. To date, seven significant monuments have been professionally treated by a sculpture conservator working with the Cemetery. Plans are currently underway for conservation of the Whitney and Fagnani monuments. Both memorials are urgently in need of care and conservation.
Beatrice Fagnani Monument
1857 Marble sculpture of a morning glory flower
Sculptor: Patrizio Piatti (c.1824-1888)
The delicate morning glory sculpture commemorating Beatrice Fagnani (1855-1857) has eroded and cracked over time. The monument is urgently in need of repair and conservation as the flower has broken in half and is being carefully stored inside until repairs are possible. Carved out of Italian marble by the sculptor Patrizio Piatti in 1857, this significant monument is a tender example of Victorian iconography. The morning glory flower, with its fluted form and overlapping leaves, closes in the evening and blooms in the morning, symbolizing death and rebirth. The inscription on the small pedestal is a poem by Maria White Lowell. Conservation will include washing the monument, carefully re-attaching the broken flower and filling any voids or cracks, and treating the monument with a stone consolidant to slow deterioration.
Charles Whitney Monument
1883 Marble sarcophagus with sculpture of an angel and putto on a raised pedestal
Sculptor: Nicola Cantalamessa-Pappotti (1833-1910)
The dramatic Whitney Monument was commissioned by Charles Whitney (1828-1887) for his lot at Mount Auburn. Whitney, who operated one of the largest lumber enterprises in the United States, commissioned the sculptor Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti to create the large, marble memorial in 1883.
The monument depicts a magnificent angel with outstretched wings atop a large sarcophagus with a putto (a winged figure of a child) holding two floral wreaths at its base. Significant losses are evident, including the large, ornate left wing of the angel and the right foot of the putto which have both been broken off. The monument also shows signs of considerable erosion, and there are cracks and fissures throughout the marble. Conservation treatment will include washing the entire surface of the monument, removing dark gypsum crusts with a handheld laser, repointing the joints in the granite stones that make up the base, filling in all cracks and voids in the marble, and applying consolidant to the marble to stabilize the surface and slow further loss.
Mount Auburn Cemetery was one of the earliest places where the American public could view art. From its earliest days, the combination of artistic monuments, history, and nature was thoughtfully designed to create a dynamic, evolving, and beautiful landscape. Today, our artist-in-residency program serves as an opportunity for the nature and history of Mount Auburn to continue to offer inspiration. Bringing that inspiration to theatrical life, 2018-2019 artist-in-residence Patrick Gabridge has written The Mount Auburn Plays, a series of ten short plays that will be fully staged in our landscape in the coming year. First, in June, a series of five Nature Plays will explore the rich natural environment of Mount Auburn Cemetery; next, in September, five America Plays will explore American identity and history through the lens of Mount Auburn.
Post-performance moderated discussions and free showings for high school are supported by a grant from Mass Humanities.
By Volunteer Docent Robin Hazard Ray
The expression “babes in the woods” is used today to describe people who get in over their heads in situations they do not fully understand. But originally Babes in the Woods was a folktale, then a ballad, then a stock script for pantomimes (English theatricals done for the kiddies at Christmastime), as familiar to people of the nineteenth century as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. As we shall see, it had resonance for several notable people buried at or affiliated with Mount Auburn. (more…)