Mourning and Commemoration

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Artworks or objects that relate to mourning or commemorating the deceased. Every culture has its own customs for grieving the loss of individuals, and objects used in mourning or burial practices are some of the oldest artifacts in the world. Many of the artifacts that survive from Ancient Egypt were used in elaborate burial customs. Perhaps the earliest known portrait in China, from approximately 160 B.C.E., is a funeral banner for the noblewoman Lady Dai. In Christian Art, the iconography of the Lamentation—a group of figures grieving the death of Christ—was popular from the 11th through the 19th century, and the Pietà (the Virgin Mary mourning a dead Christ) was a common motif from the 13th through the 17th century. Modern, largely secular works about mourning often present sites for social memorializing of public figures or groups. These often take the form of figurative sculptures of specific individuals, such as Auguste Rodin’s Monument to Balzac (1891–7), though others explore mourning through abstraction, such as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., which offers an immersive environment for visitors to pay tribute to the American soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

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