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Classical Influences on Modern Memorials

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The ceiling at Les Invalides is a huge, colorful fresco depicting a former king of France holding up his sword before God, promising to defend his nation and his Catholic faith. Huge and bright, it looms over Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb and over visitors to the Musee D’Armee.

The ceiling is monumental, calling to mind classical Renaissance art and architecture, uniting those concepts with the French monarchy. While it wasn’t directly related to World War II, I’m glad that we visited it — it’s easy to connect with modern works of memorial.

Like the American military cemetery in Normandy, France, the fresco is remarkable for its clean, bright style. The two works of memory also share a certain celebratory element; while the cemetery is not ostentatiously celebratory like the painting, it still subtly celebrates the soldiers’ actions and sacrifice. Finally, the two works of memory both carry Christian elements — the painting with its obvious Catholic iconography, and the cemetery with its rows and rows of white marble crosses. However, the cemetery does of course memorialize Jewish soldiers with a Star of David stone.

The two places have hugely different contexts and meanings but the painting — and works similar to it — have a clear influence on some other works of memory.