A monument for all the dead

A monument for all the dead

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Title: Memorial.

Author : BARTHOLOME Albert (1848 - 1928)

Creation date : 1899

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 700 - Width 1400

Storage location: Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Picture reference: 00-030651

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

In the heart of Père-Lachaise

It was under the law of 23 Prairial, Year XII that the cemetery of East Paris was created, the official name of Père-Lachaise. This legislative text is the product of different opinion movements and constitutes the conclusion of the fight of medical officers of health to move away the "fields of the dead" from urban spaces and thus find the rules prevailing in Antiquity. It was not until the second half of the XIXe century that the craze arose, and it is for a place now very frequented that Paul-Albert Bartholomé imagines this project, responding in 1889 with enthusiasm to the request of the city council of the capital. It took him ten years to create this cenotaph which, from the day it was inaugurated in 1899, received 98,000 visitors and was an immediate success.

After studies inspired by the frieze of the Panathenaia of the Parthenon, the artist opted for a single-sided monument then staged by Jean-Camille Formigé, architect of the walks and plantations of the city of Paris since 1885 who also produced the cemetery crematorium. The statuary chose the whiteness of soft Euville stone for a work combining high relief and the round, a manifestation of this "return to style" which then marked French sculpture.

Image Analysis

Facing the beyond

The apparatus of the blocks, the absence of ornaments and the shape of the opening of the construction that supports the sculptures evoke an Egyptian mastaba. The central body stands out against a tree-lined background and juts out at the end of the main alley, which is delimited by embankments planted with grass. Organized in two registers, it has twenty-one larger-than-life figures (the whole is seven meters high), a few veils sliding down to the ground covering the nudity. Chronologically speaking, the upper register, fourteen meters long, focuses on the passage from life to death, while the lower register evokes what happens after the great passage. Above, two character theories frame a couple who come face to face with the afterlife. Deploying a slender and supple arm, the woman rests a reassuring hand on the shoulder of the companion of her days who descends with her into the dark tomb.
By the postures more than by the faces of the characters, each of these sets symbolizes the different attitudes towards death. They actually sum up the feelings of those who stay, but also those who leave. Thus the left part shows despair, sorrow, overwhelm and resignation in the face of the death of a loved one. Tucked into a compact mass, the creatures, seated, crouched or bent over, whisper words of farewell, exchange final caresses, hide their faces or turn their heads away. The whole is ordered in a diagonal which descends from left to right, towards the group of the dead child - a woman, seated with her head bowed, who lifts the body of a young child above her .

The right-wing group follows a comparable movement, but is ordered on a reverse diagonal. Here are represented those who leave. The step is heavy, the arms drooping, the eyes lowered. Before knowing the serenity of the two characters standing in the doorway, the attitudes speak of despair (prostrate woman in the foreground), prayer, courage (one character supports a staggering woman), resignation. That last feeling is embodied in the farewell group, far right, with this young woman throwing a last kiss to the world.

The lower register is centered on a sepulchral crypt carved into the base directly above the door of the mastaba. The two beings who, a little higher, presented themselves in front of death, are lying side by side, cold and pale, like renaissance transients. The young child rests, stretched out on his stomach across the two bodies. A woman, a melancholy and tender genius, lifts the stone of the sepulcher with her two outstretched arms, gazing at the dead upon whom she is supposed to shed the mysterious lights of the beyond. "She makes the light shine in the land of shadows," enthuses a critic of the time, thus repeating the inscription engraved under the genius' left arm, just above the sculptor's signature: "On those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, a light shines. "


The representation of the grief of mourning

The Bartholomew monument is a culmination. The attitude of the French to death has been profoundly changed for the entire social body in the space of a century. Once again, the bourgeoisie imposes its vision and, in a process of acculturation, transmits its representations and practices to other classes. These developments led to the idea that everyone should have a tomb, an identified place where their loved ones could go and pray, thus devoting themselves to "a cult of the dead". Père-Lachaise is a revealing space for this development. It was a "field of the dead" from the Enlightenment where the body was to return to nature. It has become a "city of the dead" dominated by the leitmotif of the family funeral chapel, which gives the northern alleys the appearance of urban streets lined with residential houses. There the new mourning practices take place. It is in the movement, in the fact of "going" to the grave of the other, that lies the novelty. Until around the middle of the century, these practices remained in the minority, then they were more and more frequent and were carried out during the triumph of All Saints' Day when everyone came to pay homage to their dead. It is on All Saints' Day that Paul-Albert Bartholomé unveils his creation marked with religiosity.

This need for a place where to honor the dead soon becomes an obligation for this cemetery faced with its success and the impossibility of expanding, enclosed as it is in the urban fabric of Paris which has joined and overtaken it by the law of extension of the city promulgated in 1860. Soon the "free trench", that is to say the mass grave, disappears, and the concessions other than perpetual are prohibited in 1er January 1874. By ordering a monument to be erected in the center of the funeral enclosure in memory of the anonymous, the municipal council adopts the dominant concept: everyone, even those who do not have a grave, must have a place, a building dedicated to their memory. As a representative of the "return to style", Paul-Albert Bartholomé turns out to be a more innovative artist in form than in substance. The pain of loss, a feeling that seemed reserved during the Ancien Régime for the aristocratic elite (and the sculptor was inspired by Canova's achievements for the Austrian imperial family in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna), has now been felt. widespread throughout society, with the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie. Before the experience of "mass death" or "the death of all", which accompanied the First World War, this both emphatic and heartbreaking monument accounts for the discovery and consideration of the death of the other, the only other.

  • graveyard
  • dechristianization
  • Father Lachaise


Philippe ARIÈS, L'Homme devant la mort, Paris, Le Seuil, 1977 Antoinette LE NORMAND-ROMAIN, Mémoire de Marble, Funeral sculpture in France, 1804-1914, Paris, Agence culturelle de Paris, 1995 Danielle TARTAKOWSKY, We Will sing on your graves.Le Père-Lachaise.XIXth-XXth century, Paris, Aubier, 1999. Jean TULARD (dir.), Dictionary Napoleon, article "cemeteries of Paris" by Marcel Le Clere, Paris, Fayard, 1987. " About the Albert Bartholomé monument. A new acquisition from the Brest museum ”, in Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, volume 24, n ° 2, 1974. La Sculpture française au XIXe siècle, exhibition catalog by Grand Palais, Paris, RMN, 1986.

To cite this article

Bernard COLOMB, "A monument for all the dead"

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