Renaissance architecture was a rebirth of Roman forms. As a movement born in Italy, it’s not surprising that Renaissance architects were inspired by the stately Roman structures surrounding them. The chief characteristic of Renaissance architecture is a return to the classic forms. The influence of Roman styles in many Renaissance mausoleum designs is clear. However, Renaissance mausoleum architecture incorporates other architectural elements and styles, including Romanesque Revival and even classic Greek architecture. By examining a set of Renaissance mausoleums, it’s easy to see the diversity in this period of architecture.
The Coster Memorial, in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York, perfectly demonstrates the evolution of the Renaissance mausoleum architecture style. This mausoleum incorporates the fluted Ionic columns so prevalent in Roman architecture, crowned with volute capitals. The domed roof is a common feature in Renaissance architecture, as domes emulating the Roman Parthenon became popular during this architectural era. The faux roof crowning the entrance to the mausoleum is a classic example of Roman Ionic architectural style, but carried out in a Renaissance design where the overall structure is much more massive and ornate.
The Daly Memorial, in Greenwood Cemetery, New York, is a prime example of Renaissance architecture incorporating and building upon Roman styles. You can see the fluted Ionic columns with volute capitals on both large and small scale framing the entrance to the mausoleum. This mausoleum design also incorporates the semi-circular archways that became more commonplace above doors in Romanesque designs. Finally, this mausoleum is crowned with a cross; a common marriage of the secular and religious that dominates Renaissance style mausoleum architecture.
The Mackay Memorial, in Greenwood Cemetery, New York, is a massive structure that features a departure from typical mausoleum construction of its era. The interior features 22 crypts that are concealed by marble panels, and are set in frames of heavy bronze. An elaborate altar faces the entrance, and the tomb is heated and lit by electricity. The lights are concealed above the cornice, and reflected from the glass mosaic dome that forms the ceiling.
The marble in this impressive mausoleum has been imported from rare quarries of Italy, France, and Belgium. In 1898, it cost a quarter of a million dollars to construct it, which would translate to about $5 million in today’s prices. The exterior of the mausoleum features classic Renaissance details, including four bronze statues that represent the allegorical figures of sorrow, faith, death, and life.
The Ehret Memorial, in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York, is another good example of the diversity of Renaissance architectural styles. Incorporating many features of Romanesque Revival architecture, this massive, 56-crypt mausoleum features an arched semi-circular entrance common of the Romanesque style. This mausoleum also features Greek touches in the granite lions guarding the entrance. The tiered domed stone roof is classic Renaissance architectural style, and a laurel wreath, sacred to Roman culture, graces a bas-relief element inside the mausoleum.
As you can see, Renaissance mausoleum architecture represents a truly diverse range of designs. Some designs faithfully incorporate Roman forms and lines, as in the examples of Roman Ionic architecture. Others pull in design elements from Romanesque Revival, Greek architecture and elements unique to the Renaissance period. These unique mausoleums designs are truly sites to behold in today’s historic cemeteries.