Art and the Embodiment of Memory

Alisha K, Zixiao L, Avery M, & Hemraj P.

General Characteristics of WWI Memorials

  • Erect memorials as a way of addressing the loss and trauma of WWI
  • Most memorials in the countries that suffered the most severe losses (France, England)
  • More restrained in the US than in Europe
  • Prior to WWI, France built many memorials to commemorate the Franco-Prussian War
  • WWI sparked widespread desire to build memorials due to death toll and loss
  • Fervor continued until WWII

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Types of Memorials

Public vs Private

  • Private memorials: small displays, photos, letters, medals
  • Public memorials erected at sites that could be accessed by anyone; large crowds
  • Market places, traffic islands, churchyards, street corner, cemeteries, former battlefields

Utilitarian vs Non-Utilitarian


  • also called living memorials
  • serve obvious functions in addition to memorializing
  • Ex: parks, hospitals, museums
  • These memorials also include ornamental sculptures or plaques


  • serves no concrete purpose beyond acting as a memorial
  • Ex: arches, sculptures, monuments

Lists, Unknown Tombs & Cenotaphs

  • Some memorials include long lists of names and titles of those who served
  • these lists served to capture the magnitude of the war

  • Others were marked "unknown"
  • Unknown tombs became common after WWI
  • Ex: Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery, Virginia

  • Cenotaph monuments are empty tombs that represent the many whose remains were never found
  • Ex: Cenotaph in Whitehall, London

Memorials at Work

Visiting Memorials

  • memorials depending on location can be visited with or without attention
  • people intentionally visit memorial on special occasions such as Veteran's Day
  • Veteran's Day or Armistice Day in Europe occurs at the same day as the end of WWI, November 11
  • on such days people...
  1. leave flowers
  2. touch or kiss the monument
  3. make stone rubbings


  • some memorials serve to recognize a marginalized group
  • memorials in Italy and Germany are strongly nationalistic and interpret WWI as favorable to the rise of Fascism
  • in order to level social class and race, names are listed without identifying rank or class in military
  • memorials can be sites for pacifist protests

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Architectural Design


  • WWI memorial architecture tends to be conservative in order to appeal to wide audiences
  • Draw on Greek,Roman, Renaissance and Egyptian architecture

-Egypt esp was influential in creation of tomb forms

  • Some memorials used Art Deco rather than Classical style in order to appear more modern

References to Christianity

  • Medieval designs allowed for references to Christianity in England and France
  • Allegorical figures (Justice, Valor, Liberty) were used in public memorials to allow for universal interpretation
  • Crosses were especially prevalent in European Christian imagery
  • France had Pieta which shows Virgin Mary with the dead body of Christ
  • America had problems with Christian images

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Methods of Covering Expenses

  • memorials cost a lot of money
  • significant memorials would hold competitions between architects
  • expenses include those for the architect and maintenence
  • public funds were sometimes used to fund the building of memorials
  • Ex: British War Memorials Commission and Imperial War Graves Commission were in charge of commission and maintenance
  • France had strong institutional support for its war memorials
  • Churches also provided money

Charitable Contributions

  • Individuals pay subscriptions so that residents become patrons of memorials
  • board of directors takes on job of erecting memorial
  • source of funding helps to understand motivations for work and intended audience