September 17, 2008

What's an Allegorical Figure?

On every single one of my tours of Victorian sculpture at Forest Hills, I point out the allegorical figures that dot the landscape, as these are some of our loveliest works of art.

An “allegorical figure” is a figural sculpture (almost always a woman) that embodies or represents an abstract concept. These statues, therefore, are a sort of code, or message conveying an idea or an emotion. They also have special descriptive names.

At Forest Hills we have some very fine allegorical figures. One of the types that appears most often is the figure known as “Hope.” Hope is recognizable because of the anchor that always appears next to her. Why an anchor? That’s a complicated question, but a very short answer is that the anchor was an early Christian symbol, a sort of abstracted cross that became linked to steadfastness, hope, and piety. (For one on-line explanation of anchors, check out this handy reference site: Some examples of Hope figures at Forest Hills include the Nathaniel Tucker monument on Linden Avenue (above), and the Samuel C. Reed monument on Consecration Avenue.

Another very popular allegorical figure is that of “Grief.” This enrobed woman usually leans on one elbow on a pedestal next to her, bent over in mourning. Her posture expresses her sadness and despair. Often next to her is a funerary urn, which refers to cremation and general loss. Fine examples of Grief figures at Forest Hills include the Robbins monument on Warren Avenue (above).

For more examples of these and other types of monuments, see my Scholar’s Tour on the Trust's website.

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