You Will Know Them by Their Works

The Austrian military officer and mathematician, Andreas von Riedel, died in Paris on February 15th, 1837 at the age of 89 and was buried in the 8th Division of Montparnasse Cemetery. His friend, the architect Henri Labrouste (1801–1879), would take on the design of his tomb monument, the plan of which is shown here. Labrouste would later go on to design the reading room at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1862–1868), where the plan for von Riedel’s tomb is preserved today.

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Henri Labrouste, Plan for the Tomb of André de Ridèle, 1837. Pen, ink and wash on paper. Collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (FT 6-HD-1018).

Since 1804 (with Napoleon’s Decree of 23 Prairial XII), burials throughout France have been subject to strict regulatory systems that control where, and for how long, one may be buried. Until 1843 plots were designated as either temporary (temporaire) or perpetual (perpétuelle). Temporary concessions lasted a minimum of five years, while perpetual concessions were intended as permanent burials. After 1843, there were three levels: temporary, perennial (30 or 50 years), and perpetual. Since 1960, however, any burial, perpetual or otherwise, that had not been maintained for thirty or more years was subject to reprise if no direct relative of the deceased was found within a four-year search period. Thus, von Riedel’s concession expired in April 1988, and his monument was demolished. Now Labrouste’s drawing is all that remains of the von Riedel monument.

Decorated with acanthus leaves and inscribed “OPERIBUS EORUM COGNOSCETIS EOS” [you will know them by their works] along the top of the monument’s face, the decoration is otherwise rather modest. Surrounding the monument is a simply designed iron grill. The plan itself takes the form of the upper section of the monument, detailing the latin inscription and sculptural decoration. Below this, the front and side views of the proposed monument appear on the left, with a detail of a rosette to be included on the side of the stone, while the plans for the subterranean brick structure meant to contain von Riedel’s casket is detailed on the lower right. The sculptural design has been pricked, presumably so the design could be copied onto the stone that was to be carved with the final design.

Importantly, Labrouste has included an itemized list at the upper left, detailing the cost of the monument.

IMG_7165
Henri Labrouste, Plan for the Tomb of André de Ridèle (detail), 1837. Pen, ink and wash on paper. Collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (FT 6-HD-1018).

Original French: 

Extrait du mémoire après règlement

La famille […] des terres 2.97/m……………………………………….2.97
[…] à 17…………………………………………………………………………….17.85
[…]……………………………………………………………………………………25. 00
taille développement 3 m à […]………………………………………19.00
deux agrattes……………………………………………………………………..1.50
la roche du monument en […] à 95 cm p…………………………8.93
taille du dit…………………………………………………………………………6.60
la monument en liais à 140 cm p……………………………………31.85
taille du dit……………………………………………………………………….27.60
inscription 309 lettres à 12c……………………………………………37.08
idem…..27 lettres à 40c…………………………………………………….10.80
idem […] de 27 lettres à 12c……………………………………………….3.24
la grille en fer……………………………………………………………………79.20
sculpture des ornament……………………………………………………70.00
deux rosaces………………………………………………………………………12.00
_____
total …………354.42

This list is an important piece of information for those interested in reconstructing the cost of comparable monuments dating to this period, and further for understanding which elements of the monument were the most costly. For example here we see that the iron grill (la grille en fer) was the most costly piece of the monument at 79.20 francs. During the first half of the nineteenth century, this element alone would have been equal to roughly 43 full days’ wages for the average craftsman working in Paris. Interestingly, however, iron grills were not exclusively features of elite tombs such as this one. As my research into Père-Lachaise Cemetery has shown, more than half of tomb monuments produced in the first half of the nineteenth century were surrounded by such iron grills.

But more on this to come…


Selected References:

Revue generale de l’architecture et des travaux publicsjournal des architectes, des ingenieurs, des archeologues, des industriels et des proprietaires (1847): 198–202. 

Corinne BélierBarry BergdollMarc Le Cœur, and Martin BressaniHenri LabrousteStructure Brought to Light (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012).

Inventaire général des richesses d’art de la France (Paris: Plon, 1902): 325–326. 

 

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