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date: 18 October 2019

Epitaph [Gr.: ‘on a tomb’.]locked

  • Roger Bowdler


[Gr.: ‘on a tomb’.]

Term commonly applied in France, Germany, the Low Countries and Central Europe to a church funerary monument of modest dimensions bearing a memorial inscription. (In English usage, ‘epitaph’ signifies the inscription alone.) From the mid-16th century increasing numbers of clerics, scholars and members of the middle classes came to be commemorated by monuments in churches; accordingly, a variety of forms of memorial arose. The rise of the epitaph was largely owing to the demand for cheaper monuments that reflected the social hierarchy of burial and remembrance: small tablets took up less space than the effigial tombs of the gentry and nobility, and their modesty reflected an attitude of social deference. Continental epitaphs tended to portray the commemorated persons, sometimes with their family, generally kneeling in supplication before representations of sacred themes; they thus continued the medieval tradition of sepulchral portraiture and thereby provided an important place for religious iconography in Protestant—above all Lutheran—churches. Like Catholic ex-votos, epitaphs combined secular portraiture with sacred representations. They succeeded in surviving the iconoclasm of the Reformation by emphasizing the piety of the deceased rather than the worship of holy images. Protestant epitaphs fostered remembrance rather than veneration; with the abolition of the concept of purgatory they, as well as other types of monument, ceased to request prayers of intercession....

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