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Category: Symbols

249. silence

Silence, Recoleta Cemetery

Only a few examples of a woman bringing a finger to her lips can be found in Recoleta Cemetery. Deriving from the notion that the deceased are resting or sleeping, silence demonstrates respect & allows for introspection by visitors.

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219. juan bautista de la fuente

Juan Bautista de la Fuente, Chronos, Recoleta Cemetery

Father Time or Chronos, traditionally depicted with symbols of an hourglass & a scythe, also receives angel wings in Recoleta Cemetery. Several similar statues can be found either in seated or standing position.

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204. truncated columns

Classic to funerary architecture, a truncated column symbolizes the idea of a life cut short or unfinished. Not just for young family members who have passed away, it is also used for anyone who had many tasks left to complete. In Recoleta Cemetery broken columns appear as the main sculpture, as a decorative element on plaques, as a crown for domes or in the guise of a massive message as in the Peralta Ramos family vault (last photo):

Dominguito Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Truncated column, Recoleta Cemetery

Truncated column, Recoleta Cemetery

Peralta Ramos, Recoleta Cemetery

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179. entrance gate

Entrance gate, Recoleta Cemetery

When founded in 1822, the cemetery grounds were humbler than the miniature city of mausoleums which can be visited today. The main entrance was nothing more than a wrought-iron gate without much decoration, & the area was enclosed by an adobe-cement wall. Buenos Aires mayor Torcuato de Alvear sponsored large urban makeovers of the city & Recoleta Cemetery was on his list. In 1881, plots randomly located among dirt paths gave way to orderly sectors & paved walkways.

Juan Buschiazzo designed an appropriately elegant main entrance. He was the obvious architect of choice for Alvear, responsible for some of the poshest mansions in town. Buschiazzo incorporated the original structure into the new gate, adding columns & a frieze filled with symbols related to Christianity & naturally, death. Click on the links below to discover the meaning of each symbol:

“Rest in peace” in Latin tops the gate, leaving little doubt as to what’s inside. The above symbols are also repeated on the interior façade of the gate along with a small bell & the phrase “Expecatamus Dominum.” Taken from Philippians 3:20, it can be roughly translated as “We await the Lord.”

The gate was listed as a National Historic Monument in October 2007.

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161. scissors & knife

Scissors & knife, Recoleta Cemetery

It’s difficult to believe that no other reference exists online regarding this image in cemeteries. Scissors can represent the profession of tailor or seamstress, but not in this case. The above image is found only on the front gate so the symbolism would be more general.

Another option might be a representation of The Fates, three sisters which several ancient cultures believed controlled all destiny. In the Greek version Clotho gathered material & spun the thread, Lachesis measured the thread, & Atropos cut the thread with her scissors… the end of a life. Standard depictions of Atropos show her scissors open, ready to cut the thread. The cemetery image has closed scissors paired with a knife. Big mystery.

My favorite version the sisters is “Time & Fates of Man” by American sculptor Paul Manship as part of an enormous sundial for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. He’s mainly known for the Prometheus Fountain in Rockefeller Center, but this was equally as impressive. The last photo is courtesy of the Life magazine archive hosted on Google:



Paul Manship, World's Fair New York City

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