Monday, May 27, 2013

Two memorials

click photo to enlarge
Recently I posted a photograph of a gravestone that I described as "ordinary". Probably the most interesting aspect of the memorial was the four lines of verse it carries. The writer of these clearly had no time for those tombs whose unctuous prose, through flattery, exaggeration and embellishment, with no regard for humility, proclaim to the world at great length how the deceased embodied every virtue and was held in the highest regard by all who knew him.

I was reminded of this memorial the other day when I was in the church of St Martin in Stamford, Lincolnshire. This building houses the Burghley Chapel with several tombs of the Cecil family of nearby Burghley House. It also holds several memorials to lesser mortals who did not, reach the exalted heights of, for example, Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I (William Cecil d.1598) or hold the title of Earl of Exeter.

One of these humbler memorials stands out from the others for three reasons: it appears to be ceramic, an unusual material for a memorial; it was erected by friends of the deceased rather than his family; and the tribute it pays is couched in an unusual manner.I have no idea who Thomas Cooper Goodrich was but he was evidently liked by his friends who survived him. Apart from the fact that he excelled at cricket (I assume it means this - I suppose he could have been spectacularly bad!) the tribute dwells on only the very particular personal qualities that endeared him to those who commissioned the memorial. There is no portrait, no list of public achievements, nothing about his standing in wider society, and no hint that what is said isn't any more than the firm belief of those that penned the words.

Contrast that with the overblown memorial to John Cecil, the fifth Earl of Exeter. The laudatory remarks are in Latin on the side of a copy of a Roman sarcophagus. The Earl and his wife recline in a manner that exudes the easy comfort of the rich and powerful and they look past those who view their tomb, not deigning to meet their gaze. They wear classical rather than contemporary clothes to suggest that they are people whose influence extends beyond their own time. Flanking the tomb are life-size figures of Victory and Art. These mourners are there to emphasise the fact that these are people of significance, learning (see also the books on which his elbow rests) and stature. Behind is a framing obelisk that reaches high into the chapel. A tomb of this sort, sending these kind of messages to posterity, was fashionable at the time and de rigeur for someone of John Cecil's standing. He cannot have known that future generations would see it as both bombastic and slightly silly - just look at those giant furry feet supporting the sarcophagus!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 13.3mm (36mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 2500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On