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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Movies About Artists--The Agony and the Ecstasy

Heston's Michelangelo was no Ben-Hur with paint on his face.
In some ways, Stone's The
Agony and the Ecstasy is
better than Lust for Life.
Irving Stone's historical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, coming on the heels of his biographical A Lust for Life, should have been a much better movie that it was. That's not to say it was a bad film adaption of the turbulent relationship between Michelangelo Buonarroti and Pope Julius II (Giul-iano della Rovere). It had many of the important elements of a great movie. The book was a bon-afide best-seller. The film was blessed with familiar characters, a great historic event, good direction, and adequate (if not outstanding) performances by it's leading actors, Charlton Heston (as Mich-elangelo) and Rex Harrison (as Julius). According to the critics, the one thing it lacked was a good script. The film was variously described as "wordy,"  "an illustrated lecture," and "heavy on the dialog, light on the action"). Such criticism seems strange in that Julius II was nicked-named "the warrior pope," and Michelangelo was nothing if not combative at times. In fact, there are quite a number of medieval combat scenes in the film. Still, it was a movie about art, and art does not easily lend itself to an Ian Fleming action escapade, much less the frantic editing pace of virtually all of today's moviemaking. The Agony and the Ecstasy is thoughtful.
 
Irving Stone rests on his laurels (top).  Director Carol Reed
instructs Michelangelo (Heston) in how to paint ceiling frescoes.
The much-disparaged screenplay was written by Phillip Dunne around 1960, shortly after the book came out. The script was not a strong and soaring drama. When people of my generation claim “they don’t make films like they used to”, The Agony and the Ecstasy is typical of the kind of films they’re referring to. That's not all bad. Director/producer Carol Reed's epic opus is a solid example of a calm, more sedate style of filmmaking that today is all but extinct. Editing is kept to a minimum, the pace is kept slow, which seems design as encouragement by the filmmaker to ignore the plot and just wallow in the scenery. Whether it’s the recreation of 15th century Rome as Michelangelo and the Pope butt heads over the painting of the Sistine Chapel, or long, lingering shots of the painter’s work itself. The film is more involved in sumptuous visuals, rather than telling a compelling story. Nowadays, attention spans are distressingly short. Editing plays a much more prominent role in most mainstream films, while the number of cuts per second has skyrocketed into fifth gear.
 
Notice, Michelangelo is not even mentioned.
On the other hand, older films like this are often crushingly boring. Even with a masterful screenplay (which was not the case in this case), it's obvious that there’s barely enough story here to contain a 40-minute documentary, let alone a feature film trying to be some kind of character study. Films aren’t paintings any more (if they ever were). They’ve become something more dynamic, reflecting a society that moves faster and overloads its citizens with information. Every art form should evolve in this manner, to suit the world in which it is made. If it doesn't, it ends up stationary; and people don’t watch such films anymore.
 
Even with makeup, Heston bore only a passing resemblance to
Michelangelo. The painter was in his early thirties when he did the
Pope's ceiling. Heston was ten years older when he did the movie.
There were problems from the beginning. The movie was originally supposed to have been filmed in 1961, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Burt Lancaster. But for a variety of reasons, production was delayed for three years. Laurence Olivier, the first choice for Pope Julius II was unavailable. Spencer Tracy was offered the role of the Pope before Rex Harrison was cast. When it came time to film the feature, the Vatican balked at using the real Sistine Chapel so it had to be recreated on a sound stage at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. During the production, Rex Harrison and Charlton Heston developed a intense dislike for one another. So much for chemistry.
 
If Heston bore little resemblance to Michelangelo,
Rex Harrison looked nothing at all like Julius II.
Although I tend to love any film with Rex Harrison, as an actor he bears the burden of many others in his profession. He can never seem to rise above his own persona. Whether it's Pope Julius, Julius Caesar, or Henry Higgins, we always see Rex Harrison playing his role, rather than becoming his character. Moreover The Agony and the Ecstasy was burdened with quite a number of historically inaccurate details while its historic figures such as Donato Bramante and Raphael were undifferentiated from Stone's fictional ones, mostly the de Medici clan. Michelangelo was depicted lying on his back atop his scaffolding as he painted. In reality, he stood up and, in essence, bent over backwards. And although the artist is shown working with two or three assistants, their importance is greatly minimized.
 
Bramante was the primary architect for St. Peter's Basilica.
Contessina de' Medici was a fictional character.
Lovely as she was, Diane Cilento as Contessina de' Medici was invented by Stone as a token female presence in Michelangelo's tortured existence. Her name was simply plucked from the de' Medici family tree, (as was that of her "brother," Giovanni, in the film). It's quite probable she also endured a sex change in that most of the de Medici offspring about Michelangelo's age were male. Her chiding, though sympathetic, role in the film was likely set to preclude any possible suggestion that Michelangelo was gay. In 1965, that would have meant disaster.

How to paint a ceiling in 138 minutes.
The Agony and the Ecstasy, for all its shortcomings, did have its "moments." The thought provoking discussions between the painter and the pope regarding the nature of God were fascinating, as was the humorous political divide among the church cardinals as to whether the pope's chapel should have naked figures writhing all over its ceiling. Yet, unlike Lust for Life and several other films about the lives of artist, this one actually turned a modest profit. Boasting an $7-million budget the film has grossed about eight million. At the 1965 Academy Awards, though nominated for five, the film won none. It fared no better at the Golden Globes where Rex Harrison was nominated as Best Actor and (amazingly) Phillip Dunne for Best Screenplay. Neither won.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. He even designed the uniforms seen here for the pope's Swiss Guards.






































 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Artists' Graves

The grave of Edouard Manet, 1883,  Passy Cemetery, Paris
With the exception of some of the more morbid members of our art, very few of us have given much (if any) thought to our own death. Of course, that changes somewhat as we each get older and perhaps have a couple brushes with the grim reaper. I'd venture to say many artists under the age of fifty don't even have a will. We don't like to think about death, especially our own, and if nothing else, making out a will demands just such morose contemplation. Even if you're not rich and famous, most artist leave behind a sizable body of unsold works for their heirs to decide how, when, and where to unload. Personally, my will contains a list of friends, relatives, and organizations I'd like to have choose a "leftover" painting to hang somewhere in memory of me. Other artists' heirs set about liquidating unsold pieces, while some form foundations to support a museum exhibiting their work. Other artists' descendants merely store them away for a few generations hoping the art world eventually comes to realize their collective value.
 

Plain and simple--respectful without a hint of pomposity.
Then there's the matter of burial arrangements. Quite apart from disposing of their painted assets, it's in this regard that artists, being creative types, sometimes "raise some eyebrows." In looking over the graves of famous artists, I was amazed both at how grandiose some were, and how plain and simple other final resting places were designed. The one deciding factor, insofar as I can tell, depends upon whether the artist took the time to work out the details or whether his or her penny-pinching heirs made the decisions. Take the grave of the French painter, Edouard Manet (top), for instance. The artist contracted syphilis in his mid-forties and never received treatment. In April, 1883, his left foot was amputated because of gangrene. He died, not unexpectedly, some eleven days later. From the appearance of his mausoleum in Paris' Passy Cemetery, he must have spent at least a few of those eleven days working out its details. In contrast, the grave of Vincent van Gogh (above), next to that of his brother, Theo, reflects a lack of financial resources, Manet seems to have employed.

The tomb of Raphael
Two of the more elaborate artists' tombs I've seen myself date from the Renaissance period in Italy, those of Raphael de Sanzio (above) and Michelangelo (below). Of the two, Raphael's is the more modest, though the setting is anything but. Michelangelo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, to which he had no input whatsoever other than the influence of his de Medici tomb may have had on his followers. Both men would probably be dismayed by what their creative descendants have seen fit to house their earthly remains (Michelangelo is lodged, not in his wall tomb, but beneath the floor of the church).

Florence's Basilica of Santa Croce. Besides Michelangelo, the
church also houses the tombs of Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, Foscolo,
Gentile, Ghiberti, Rossini, Guglielmo Marconi, and Enrico Fermi. 
Although I could have quite easily, while in Venice, I did not seek out the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa de Frari (below) where I could have found the pyramidal tomb of the Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, and the Venetian painter, Tiziano Vercelli (Titian), lodged just across the nave from one another. Ironically, Titian's tomb is based upon a design by Canova as adapted by his students. Also buried in this church are Bellini and Donatello.


It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside, along with its artists' tombs, "The Frari" (as it's called by the locals) houses hundreds of millions of dollars worth of religious masterpieces.
From the 19th century on, few artists were being buried in churches (perhaps they were filling up). When the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin died in 1917, he chose a spot in front of an old hotel which he'd turned into a museum featuring his work at his estate he called Meudon (just outside Paris). Presiding over his grave is, of course, a bronze copy of his famous The Thinker (below). His funeral, seen below, in the amber-tinted print, depicts some six-thousand mourners.

The sculptor of the famous Kiss, chose instead a bronze copy of
his even more famous, The Thinker  for his tomb , placed in front of the Rodin Museum just outside Paris. (It is one of twenty in the world).
Although Rodin turned all his remaining works and the country estate he called Meudon over to the French government when he died in 1917, Pablo Picasso had so much money he simply went out and bought a similar lodging, the Chateau Vauvenargues near Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire (seen in the hazy background below) as the site of his future resting place. Picasso bought the ancient fortification in 1959 and lived there the rest of his life. Although his grave itself is really quite modest by some standards, the venue is rather auspicious.

Besides literally thousands of his own paintings which
remained at his death in 1973, Picasso also owned works
by Chardin, Corot, Courbet, Renoir, Gauguin, Vuillard,
Rousseau, Matisse, Braque, Miró, Modigliani and Cézanne.
Perhaps the most modest of all, the grave of Andy
Warhol, near Pittsburgh, was financed by his heirs.
Rather than flowers, admirers leave cans of soup
on his grave.




















































 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Paintings I've not Done Yet--Automobiles

Copyright, Jim Lane
Whether you realize it or not, this image is another that I've stitched
together from two separate photos.
There's hardly a greater challenge for an artist than portraiture. And aside from the human face, the greatest challenge in portraiture is in automobile portraiture. It's likely that few people outside the art world and the classic car world would think of paintings of cars as automobile portraits; but let me tell you, as one who has worked for some of the most dedicated and demanding collectors, they pay as much attention to every single detail as would a loving mother in guiding the hand of a portrait artist painting her children. To the antique car collector, his shiny bright beauties are his children (most collectors are men). I could carry that analogy further, but you get the idea.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Hotel Courtyard Fountain, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Last week I demonstrated the key factors in joining (or stitching) two separate photos to be used as source material in a painting. Two new photos can be seen separately above and below. The background was a garden courtyard at, I believe, the Sheraton Hotel in Plantation (near Ft. Lauderdale), Florida. The image below is one of three I shot of a 1951 (as near as I can tell) Morgan (handmade in England for several generations now by a family owned company). It was the centerpiece of the Grand Promenade aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. Two more diverse venues one could hardly imagine. And although the two photos do have minor compatibility issues, they come together surprisingly well.

Copyright, Jim Lane
1951 Morgan Plus 4 Coupe.
Although both photos are quite attractive and could easily stand alone as sources for separate paintings, together they meet very well the major criteria I mentioned last week in going to all the trouble to stitch together photos--they end up becoming more than the sum of their parts. Of course, the car steals the show from the fountain, but the fountain and tall buildings play a vital supporting role in providing a much better context than the ship's "sidewalk" café seen in the background of the car photo. Below them are two other photos providing more in-depth details for anyone interested in painting this strikingly beautiful work of automotive art.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Regardless of the angle, the car is nothing short of stunning.
In addition to these, I'm providing two more, neither of which are compatible, but both of which provide interesting possibilities. I have no idea as to the make and model of the blue, 1940s vintage (below) roadster below which suggests it's probably relatively rare. If you decide to paint from that photo, you might do well to leave me out. I've yet to improve the looks of any painting. The final photo (bottom) is the laundry room at La Casa Mila in Barcelona. (I could not find any category in which it might fit.) In this case you might want to try your hand at stitching into the scene a center of interest figure compatible with the background. (Sorry, I have no such image.)

Copyright, Jim Lane
This is from a private collection displayed at a travel plaza
near Tulsa, Oklahoma.
-------------------------------------
 
As the fourteenth and final group in this series, like the others, these photos are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at jimlane@jimlanart.com and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographic location. If you have a website, please include the URL. All I ask is that, when finished, you e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The laundry room at Antonio Gaudi's La Casa Mila in
Barcelona, Spain.



































































Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Paul Émile Chabas

September Morn, 1912, Paul Chabas
The French have a phrase, "succès de scandale." We Americans simply declare, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." There are probably some American presidential "also-rans" these days who might disagree with that sentiment, but for artists, it very often holds true. "Succes de scandal," loosely translated, is any work of art which finds success due to public controversy surrounding it. Usually there's a moral element involved, though James McNeill Whistler's "success de scandal," Nocturne in Black and Gold, was totally lacking in any erotic content. (This was the painting which English art critic, John Ruskin, accused Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public's face”). However there was no paint pot involved, with Eduard Manet's 1863 Luncheon on the Grass or John Singer Sargent's 1884 Madame X (she wasn't even nude). Marcel Duchamp had his Nude Descending a Staircase. His 1912 figure was nude, according to the title, but far from titillating. That was not the case with the French artist, Paul Emile Chabas and his 1912 September Morn (above).

The Artist's Model, Paul Emile Chabas
Paul Chabas photo, 1897
Insofar as French nudes were concerned (especially during the Pre-WW I era) Chabas' September Morn was pretty much a run-of-the-mill, sanitized, academic nude by a pretty much run-of-the-mill artist of his time. It was far from explicit (especially as compared to Gustave Courbet's 1866, Origin of the World) or even Chabas' own The Artist's Model, (above) also from around 1912. But all that was in France, and all that was before the French art invasion of New York at the 1913 Armory Show. There's no indi-cation Chabas' September Morn was a part of that Modern Art incursion, but the painting did, in fact, show up in New York about May, of 1913.


Anthony Comstock, U.S.
Postal Inspector.
A man named Anthony Comstock, was the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. He protested that the painting was supposedly immoral. If Comstock was offended by the painting, its artist, Chabas, was just as offended by Comstock and the controversy over the work. For a time he retreated to the South of France. None-theless, there was still much publicity. Repro-ductions of the painting soon hit the market (for which Chabas received not a cent). They sold briskly...for many years afterwards, in fact. September Morn has sometimes been con-sidered kitsch, though as kitsch goes, it's a pretty mild example. Chabas refused to identify the model, referring to her only as "Marthe". Yet the controversy refused to go away. As late as 1935, a rumor circulated that the young woman was living in poverty. Chabas was receiving letters from people in the U.S. who wanted to come to her aid. The painting was still considered indecent by some in the U.S. more than twenty years later.

The Nymphs of dance, Paul Émile Chabas
Ninf Loira, Paul Chabas. Today,
his nudes probably wouldn't
raise many eyebrows but the
apparent ages of his models
might.
In the years that followed, Chabas illus-trated books by such authors as Paul Bourget and Alfred de Musset as well as works for the French publisher Alphonse Lemerre. He became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1921 and received the Légion d’honneur in 1928. From 1925 to 1935 he was president of the Société des Artistes Français. He died a widower in Paris in May of 1937 after a long illness. In the room where he died there was only one painting—a copy of September Morn which he had painted from memory.
















































Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Number One City Park in the World

With its four very distinct seasons, Vancouver's Stanley Park is
almost like four parks in one, it's many different features
enjoyed by many different types of people for many different
reasons the whole year around.
Several months ago I began this series featuring the Top Ten City Parks in the World (according to the reviewers at TripAdvisor, of which I am one). Last month I revealed the number two park, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This month, in wrapping up this series, the winner is (drum roll please), the number one city park in the world, is Stanley Park, British Columbia, Canada. Surprised? The people of Vancouver certainly were back in June, 2014, when the listing was first announced, especially given the fact that the second through fifth spots went to parks in U.S. cities. Apparently insofar as the reviewers at TripAdvisor are concerned, uniqueness counts for a lot. Stanley Park is not the largest of them all (third largest, actually). Some might argue convincingly that its not the most beautiful. Nor is it the most popular at "only" eight-million visitors each year. New York's Central park has almost five times that many.
 
Stanley Park has all the usual lawns and flowerbeds of other such urban respites, but also two beaches and two forests, one
made up of totem poles.
Lions Gate Bridge, leading
from the park to North
Vancouver, dates from
1939
I'm only guessing, but I think what elevates Stanley Park to the top of such a self-important list is the number of distinctive items it features that are not a part of any other city park in the world. What other park on the list has its own suspension bridge, it's own "little mermaid" (which is actually a bronze girl in a wetsuit), it's own forest of Giant Red Cedars, some as tall as 250 feet, and several hundreds of years old? Like several other city parks on TripAdvisor's list, Stanley Park is so large as to not actually fit in the middle of the city, as does Central Park in New York, but lies on the outskirts, though still within easy walking (or jogging) distance from the center of the city. Unlike most such parks, however, Stanley park is also unique in that it evolved over more than a century rather than rising as a whole from some landscape architect's drawing board.
 
Beaches, lakes, lagoons, bridges, and half a million trees, Stanley
Park has features other city parks can only dream of...so to speak.
At just over one-thousand acres, Stanley Park occupies its own peninsula jutting out into Vancouver's massive, island-strewn harbor. The park area was one of the first areas to be explored in the city. The land was originally used by prehistoric natives for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. For many years thereafter, the future park, with its abundant resources, would also be home to early settlers. The land was turned into Vancouver's first park when the city incorporated in 1886. It was named after Lord Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, a British politician who had recently been appointed Governor General.
 
The Stanley Park Rowing Club and Marina dates from the 1930s.
Unlike most city parks there is little that is "new under the sun" in Stanley Park. Most of the manmade structures seen today were built between 1911 and 1937 under then park superintendent, W.S. Rawlings. Only a few additional attractions, such as a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train, were added in the Post-World War II period. For the most part, the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees. Thousands of trees were lost after three major windstorms hit the park over the past 100 years (the last in 2006). Virtually all the trees destroyed have since been replanted. Even one of the newer features of the park, the Vancouver Seawall, is nearly a century old. It draws thousands of residents and visitors to the park every day. The park also features forest trails, beaches, lakes, children's play areas, and an Aquarium, among many other attractions.
 
Though largely left as nature intended, some of Stanley Park's trails have been modified to accommodate human guests of the park's amazing diversity of wildlife. (Yes, it's a photo, not a painting.)
Stanley Park is conveniently located on the west side of the downtown area. The park is surrounded by the harbor and is home to huge red cedar and Douglas fir trees. A seawall, which rings the park has an extensive walking, jogging, and biking path with designated lanes for each. From the seawall, there are many impressive views of the city and mountains. A scenic drive also winds through Stanley Park with numerous pullouts. If you visit, don't miss sculptor, Elek Imredy's 1972 Girl in Wetsuit (below) located along the north side of the park. And don't call her "The Little Mermaid."
 
Girl in Wetsuit, 1972, Elek Imredy, During high tides, she gets
her fins wet. at other times the seagulls keep the rest of
her quite moist.
 Yes, there's "Art in the Park" too...
 



The Stanley Park Light House
at Brockton Point





































































Monday, November 28, 2016

National Museum of Wildlife Art

A watercolor of the museum as inspired by the ruins of Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, echoes the hillside behind the facility.
The museum's entry rotunda
features a "wildlife"
totem pole.
On the outside, especially as one approaches from a distance, it doesn't look like much. Located near the ski resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, you might easily mistake it for some sort of Native American ruins. But at some 51,000 square feet of display area, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is much. Actually, insofar as the building goes, it doesn't look all that impressive from the inside either (left)--which is good. It bucks the trend of turning a museum's architecture into a work of art itself, thus com-peting with the art it displays. Although I dislike museums which do that, it has become so common these days I guess I should get used to it. This is the second of an indeterminate number of items dealing with some of the smaller, often overlooked, art museums dotting the American cultural landscape. Founded in 1987, like so many such museums, even at some 5,000 different art items, its holdings are modest, but represent the best work to be found in its spec-ialized area of content.

Wapiti Trail, 2007by American sculptor Bart Walter
As befits a wildlife museum, there's almost as much sculptural art outside as there is painted art inside. The sculptural group Wapiti Trail (above)is a site-specific piece commission specifically by the museum. Also outside, near the parking lot, is an impressive creature (below) often called "Bullwinkle" by older visitors. Younger visitors simply ask, "What's a Bullwinkle?" In addition to 14 galleries, the museum has a Sculpture Trail, Museum Shop, the Rising Sage Café, a Children’s Discovery Gallery, and Library. More than 80,000 people visit every year.

This mpressive creature you wouldn't want to meet along
the road (or worse, in the middle of it). They have
 been known to charge automobiles head on.
The core of the museum's collections reflects traditional and contemporary realism. The museum's two centerpiece galleries display a collection of works by noted wildlife artists, Carl Rungius and Bob Kuhn. The museum's holdings are dedicated to recognizing the relationship between humans and the environment. The collection includes work dating from 2500 B.C. to the present, including pieces from Charles Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, Frederic Remington, John James Audubon, N.C. Wyeth, Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert, Bruno Liljefors, Robert Bateman, Simon Gudgeon, and Mark Catesby. Additionally, there are works by such un-notable wildlife artists as Auguste Rodin, Picasso, Rembrandt, and Andy Warhol.

Carl Rungius was a German-born (1869) wildlife artist active
during the first half of the 20th-century, painting in Canada
and the western United States.
The museum awards each year its Rungius Medal, named in honor Carl Rungius, to individuals who have made lifetime or extraordinary contributions to the artistic interpretation and preservation of wildlife and its habitat. The museums other featured artist, Robert Kuhn, born in 1920, also rates his own gallery of wildlife at (below).

The work of American wildlife artist, Robert Kuhn is a perennial
favorite with museum goers.
In addition, the museum encourages artists to take inspiration from Jackson Hole’s famously beautiful natural surroundings during its annual Plein Air Fest each June. The festival, has lined up more than 50 artists for next year, who will race to complete plein air masterpieces in just four hours during the festival’s exciting “quick draw.” Along with watching the artists creating in real time, art lovers will have an opportunity to bid on the freshly painted pieces.

A crowd of potential buyers observes the museum's annual speed painting competition.
What's with the elephants? Where does it say
American wildlife?


















The wildlife has the right-of-way.

















































 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tombstone Art

Some of the best carved sculpture to be found today resides,
largely unknown and unappreciated, in large city cemeteries.
It occurred to me today that I don't write as much as I should on sculpture, sculptors, and certainly not the old "hammer and chisel" sculpture from the past. You know, it's hard to overstate the tremendous impact Pablo Picasso had on three-dimensional art the first time he began fastening together various found objects in creating the first Cubist "built" sculptures. From that point on the old-fashioned way of carving images from wood or stone has largely bit the marble dust (or sawdust, if you prefer). It's not that such sculptors no longer exist--they do. It's just that, even with computers, they're not very economically viable artists. The quality of their work today is superb. Their messages and concepts as valid as any in the past. It's just that "subtractive" sculpture is about ten times more demanding (in time and skill) than Picasso's "additive" works utilizing modern materials.
 
Michelangelo's original plan for the tomb of Pope Julius II.
The tomb was to be freestanding Michelangelo's Dome of
St. Peters Basilica so there were just as many figures
populating the other side.
The tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome.
There's nothing new about that. Michelangelo fought the same battle in planning the tomb of Pope Julius II. Someone pointed out to him that in his drawings he had covered it with so many writhing figures (above), literally carved in stone, that even though he was the fastest stone carver in the world at the time, he could not possibly live long enough to complete them all (and that there was simply no other sculptor who could match his style). Moreover, Julius II would be in need of his tomb long before even two or three of Mich-elangelo's figures could be completed. Poor Julius had to settle for a single, monumental Moses flanked by a half-dozen minor figures, all relegated to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.
 
One of the most common themes in sepulchral sculpture involves
"Waiting for the Second Coming" (resurrection).
 It's become a long wait.
Although artists, the famous, the wealthy, and all dead popes continued to be buried in churches for another three or four centuries, today the place to go to see some of the most beautiful...also the weirdest, funniest, and most touching carved (and cast in bronze) sculpture is virtually any major cemetery in the large cities in the world (few local cemeteries has much beyond sandblasted plinths). Such urban cemetery sculpture is actually some of the oldest, best-preserved art to be found in "younger" countries such as the United States (top, left). The skull and crossbones was a common motif (as to the temporal nature of life) in pre-colonial cemetery sculpture. Later, in Europe, a common theme (top, right) was "escaping" death.

For mourners also facing a similar wait for the resurrection
of the dead in the final days, this family decreed a pleasant,
living room setting carved from black stone ebony featuring the
oval headstone in place of a TV.
Although mourning and religious themes continue to dominate much of the carved stone sculpture in cemeteries today as in the past, in more recent years other such works are often designed to reflect the profession, personality, personal habits, hobbies, and image of the deceased. Headstones such as that of guitarist and songwriter Johnny Ramone (below), who died in 2004, fulfill most of these thematic elements.

Johnny Ramone's bronze headstone sculpture located in the
Hollywood Forever cemetery is neither the best nor the worst
to be found in many of today's large, park-like cemeteries.
Among spiritual or religious sculpture found in cemeteries around the world today the results range from the soaring inspiration of the young boy escaping from his wheelchair (the memorial designed by his father) to the downright maudlin figure of a weeping nymph or angel seen below at the bottom. Variations of such emotional works are quite often holdovers from the 19th and early 20th centuries before families began personalizing such grave markers.

The mournful figure just above, while reflecting a
heavily emotional theme reminiscent of the 19th-
century, the overall design of the modern seems
very 20th-century in its modern simplicity.
In exploring how far we've come in both our outlook on death, and our taste in sculpture, the two headstone below would seem to proclaim the deceased's love of crossword puzzles (on the left) and heavy-duty cycling (on the right). In case you didn't notice, that's a computer console, carved in marble, in the lower-left corner. All in all, this is heavy-duty stone carving--no sandblasted dates or pithy epitaph's here.

The crossword puzzle marker manages to impart both a personal
liking and a great deal about the one buried beneath it.
From here, things get a little weird...depending upon your taste in tombstones...perhaps a lot weird. The stone grave coverings below seem to be asking the question, "is there sex after death?" Asleep is the marble gravestone of Laurence Matheson (1930-1987), sculpted at the request of his widow by artist Peter Shipperheyn. The grave is located in the Mount Macedon Cemetery of Victoria, Australia. The "barely" clad couple below the Matheson grave appear to be lingering in the afterglow of a sexual encounter, which may be intended to say a lot about their marriage.

Sculptural works such as those above, while dedicated to
physical love relationships, also would seem to invite various
forms of vandalism.
If you think the marble idolization of love pushes the limits of good taste past
most cemetery norms, I've saved the really weird ones until last. Below, we see a late-model stone car carved from a single boulder which, in fact seems to be crushing the car. Below that, the ridiculous image of a man who, for lack of a more appropriate phrase, seems to demand only the freshest of dairy nutrients. Perhaps he was, in fact a dairy farmer; the man with the crushed car an auto dealer battling crushing debt. Or, it could be that both cemetery pieces simply refer to the two men's causes of death.

Weird, stupid, funny, or perhaps the cause of their deaths.
An expression of sympathy.