Art For Raising Monumental Tributes
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
One of the most important purposes for which the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture are capable of being employed, as regards their national effect, is the erection of public monumental tributes to the memory of those illustrious individuals who have by their labours or their talents conferred benefit on their country, or on mankind at large. The influence of these in producing a laudable emulation among the people, by keeping these great events, and the example of these great characters ever before their eyes, is doubtless very extensive ; and to every statesman of an enlarged and philosophical mind will be a matter of serious consideration.
As in the case of the commemoration of great national events, so in the erection of national monuments, if these are to produce the effect of which they are capable, and which it is desirable they should do, they must be constructed with a dignity and an impressiveness suitable to such an end, and which can only be accomplished by the application to them of art, and the regulation of their design by its principles. Monumental tributes should, moreover, possess an intellectual and artistical character and merit, independent of their value as simple memorials. By this means they will command the admiration of all who view them ; and, as in the case of other efforts of art of a corresponding nature, the more striking they are as works of art, the more efficient in proportion will they prove as memorials also. The fame of some men will live long after the most solid monument raised over their remains has mouldered into dust, and will serve far more to preserve the memory of the monument, than the monument will conduce to preserve their memory. Other men are remembered from their monuments alone, and to these, indeed, they owe their only fame; while some monuments have a celebrity of their own, which they owe to the artistical excellence by which they are characterized, which serves as it were to give them a soul, and to make them immortal, and by which they have established for themselves an independent reputation, not only supplanting, but far eclipsing that of the persons whose memory they were raised to perpetuate, and whose name by this means they still keep alive.
If, however, it be urged that individuals who are animated by lofty feelings of patriotism or benevolence, need no such stimulants as the preservation of their fame by means of monumental trophies to excite them to good deeds, inasmuch as they are prompted to this cause by far higher motives ;—I reply that it is peculiarly for those who are not so actuated, and whom it must be feared form the bulk of mankind, as well as for persons whose patriotism is more pure and noble, that these monuments are required.
But while the power of art to give effect to the monuments raised to the memory of the dead is one of the most solemn and valuable prerogatives of which it is possessed; yet its influence is exercised here not only in the erection of public monuments to celebrated men, but, as regards the tombs of the humblest and most lowly, its aid is also had recourse to, in the laying out and decoration of the burying-places which are the receptacles of the graves of all alike. In all ages and in all countries the aid of art to consecrate and adorn the resting-place of those whose memory we cherish with a melancholy pleasure, has been resorted to. And sepulchral architecture, and sculpture, and ornamental gardening, contemporaneously with elegiac poetry and funereal music and eloquence, have been employed in this sad service, of which all are sooner or later compelled to be the subjects. The most enduring and the most striking objects that remain to us of the works of the ancients, are the tombs which they raised to perpetuate the memory of their dead.
Nearly allied to the subject of national monuments is that of a collection of national portraits, consisting of the effigies, whether on canvas or in marble, of those distinguished individuals whose memory by the people at large deserves to be cherished on account of the good deeds which they have conferred, either on their country or on mankind. By means of these mementos, we retain as it were the very persons of those great men ; and as their characters are revered, so their example is held up to perpetual imitation. An extensive and most beneficial moral effect is thus produced on persons of all ranks and classes.
Poetry, eloquence, music, and architecture are also capable of being employed to most important purposes, as regards the memorializing both individuals and transactions of a national and heroic character, and preserving to posterity a grateful and honoured remembrance of their existence.