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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a sculptural work or a small architectural form. Its purpose is to perpetuate the memory of the deceased on whose grave it is erected (in contrast to a tomb, in which the body of the deceased is enclosed, or to a cenotaph).

In Neolithic cultures, graves were marked by wooden pillars (menhirs). In ancient Greece, statues and stelae portraying the deceased were erected over the grave. In Europe during the early Middle Ages, with the spread of Christianity, the low-relief stelae characteristic of the period of the Great Migrations were replaced by crosses. Beginning in the 11th century the most common type of gravestone in Western Europe was an empty stone or bronze box, covered with a slab bearing a portrait of the deceased in the form of a relief, an engraving, or a statue; it was placed above the grave, usually inside a church. Stone slabs with carved ornaments were common in the medieval period in the Caucasus. Chinese gravestones—vertical slabs on which names rather than portraits were carved—gradually became freestanding memorial walls.

During the Renaissance, gravestones, as a rule, were replaced by sepulchers. During the 17th and 18th centuries, portraits on gravestones were often combined with symbols of the transience of life on earth and with allegorical figures; inscriptions acquired a more important role in the overall composition. From the late 18th century to the early 19th, gravestones were usually erected not in churches but in cemeteries, forming what might be considered gravestone museums.

Since the second half of the 19th century, the religious and didactic nature of gravestones has gradually diminished, and the only ornament on the grave has been a portrait of the deceased or a terse emblem, having a purely commemorative purpose.


Netunakhina, G. D. , and N. I. Udimova. Muzei gorodskoi skul’ptury: Kratkii putevoditel’. Leningrad, 1972.
s’Jacob, N. Idealism and Realism: A Study of Sepulchral Symbolism. Amsterdam, 1954.
Panofsky, E. Tomb Plastik. London, 1955.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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