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Lecture: The Influence of Greek Sculpture on American Gravestones

October 24, 2013
Morton Auditorium
Free with museum admission

Join John H. Oakley, Chancellor Professor and Forrest D. Murden Jr. Professor of Classical Studies, College of William and Mary as he discusses the influence of Greek sculpture on American gravestones. 

Although there has been much research on American grave monuments, and a general picture of the changing tastes in their nature and style has been well observed, no study yet has focused on how Greek sculpture influenced American gravestones. The earliest American gravestones have little which is Greek, but this started to change in the last decades of the 18th century, as neoclassical art began to have an influence on the motifs found on gravestones. With the introduction of “Rural or Garden Cemeteries”, a change which corresponded roughly with the rise in popularity of Greek Revival Architecture, gravestones based directly on ancient Greek prototypes start to appear. Some are nearly exact copies of surviving ancient works and mark the graves of famous men, such as that on the tomb of 27th United States President, William Howard Taft (1857-1930) in Arlington National Cemetery. Most date between the late 19th century and the 1930’s, a time span when Greek Revival architecture became very popular again, and when Victorian values prevailed valorizing all things Greek and leading to self identification with ancient Greece.

A scholar of Greek painting, John H. Oakley has authored numerous books and articles including Picturing Death in Classical Athens, The Achilles Painter, and The Wedding in Ancient Athens (co-authored with Rebecca Sinos). He is the recipient of fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was the Mellon Professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece, and has been a visiting professor in New Zealand, Germany, and Belgium.

Affiliate Group: 

James Earl Frazer, Greek Revival Tomb Marker for President William Howard Taft, Arlington National Cemetery, 1932.