Early Victorian Cemetery Architecture

In 1833, when the Ruskins visited the New Cemetery in Frankfurt am Main, John Ruskin gained perhaps his first exposure to the new urban cemeteries that were starting to replace the traditional parish churchyard in the 1820s and 1830s (see List of Proposed Additional Contents for the “Account”). Possibly, by that time, he may also have visited Liverpool with his family, where he could have viewed that cityʼs new St. Jamesʼs Cemetery, which opened in 1829. Responding both to hygienic concerns, which had become pressing owing to rapid urban growth that led to overcrowded city burial places, and to the need for nondenominational alternatives to Anglican parish churchyards, the new cemeteries were operated by joint stock companies.
Architecturally, these cemeteries presented a significant focus for neoclassicism until that taste was displaced by Gothic Revival influences in mid‐century. Entered via a massive gatehouse, often modeled on the Greek Doric propylaeum, the grounds were conceived as a classical Elysium, inspired by the Arcadian landscape tradition in painting and estate gardening. Another classical model was the “city of the dead” or necropolis, drawn from Etruscan tomb complexes and (although quite different from the Etruscan model in origin and conception) Roman catacombs. Like John Nashʼs conception of Regentʼs Park in London, classical architectural style combined with the contemporary taste for the picturesque, which determined the serpentine layouts of walks, drives, and the botanically diverse plantings. The English gardening tradition melded with neoclassical monuments even in new cemeteries on the Continent. The hugely influential design combining these elements was the Cimetière du Père‐Lachaise in Paris, established in 1804, and created by Alexandre‐Théodore Brongniart (1739–1813) under the patronage of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Apparently, the Ruskins visited Père‐Lachaise on their way home from the Tour of 1833, since Ruskin planned to write about the cemetery in the Account of a Tour on the Continent; see List of Proposed Additional Contents for the “Account”.)
In Britain, cemetery architecture eventually came under the influence of John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843), who modified the combined Arcadian and picturesque tastes that had governed the garden cemetery, by enforcing a characteristically comprehensive plan that was hygienically practical for disposal of the dead yet also morally instructive for the living observer. Loudonʼs treatise, On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries; and on the Improvement of Churchyards was published in the year of his death (Rutherford, The Victorian Cemetery, 5, 10, 13, 20–21, 22–23, 11, 24–29; Worpole, Last Landscapes, 46–49, 79–88, 135).
For other contexts in which the young Ruskin encountered neoclassical architecture—particularly, the transformative Greek Revival “improvements” that altered the style and experience of urban settings in the early nineteenth century—see The Colosseum, Hornorʼs London Panorama, and the London Diorama in Regentʼs Park; City of London; Neoclassical and Napoleonic‐Era Architecture in Milan and Northern Italy.
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