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Commemoration / Mourning

Giotto di Bondone
Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ), c.1304-1306
200 x 185 cm (79 x 73 in.)
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Throughout the history of art, artists have often expressed their feelings of loss and sadness through artworks that encompass a sense of commemoration and mourning. This arises from the inherent need of humans to express emotions associated with tragic experiences and to remember departed loved ones. Christian Art notably has a rich tradition of depicting sorrow and mourning, with examples such as Lamentation (1306) and The Pietà (1498-1499). The subject of commemoration and mourning were prevalent from the 11th to the 19th century, providing visual expressions of grief and lamentation for the death of Christ. The Pietà, in particular, holds significant importance within Christian Art, depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the lifeless body of Jesus following his crucifixion. It serves as a powerful symbol of Mary's profound sorrow and grief over the loss of her son, while emphasizing themes of compassion, love, and sacrifice. The Pietà represents the emotional and spiritual impact of Christ's death on humanity.

Installation view of Doris Salcedo’s Palimpsest at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, 2022-2023
© Doris Salcedo
Photo: Mark Niedermann

In more contemporary and largely secular works, mourning is often portrayed through sculptures of public figures or expressed through abstract artworks. An example is Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) in Washington, D.C., which creates an immersive environment for visitors to pay homage to American soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The memorial consists of a black granite wall with the etched names of over 58,000 servicemen and women, inviting reflection.

Doris Salcedo, a renowned Colombian artist, is also known for her poignant and deeply moving artworks that address themes of loss, absence, and commemoration. Her works delve into historical events, collective memory, and the profound impact of violence and conflict on individuals and communities. In the installation Palimpsest (2013-2017), she explores Europe's migrant crisis, focusing on those who tragically lost their lives while attempting to reach the continent. The installation features a floor of rectangular stone slabs, intermittently revealing the names of over 300 victims through sand and delicate droplets of water. This process of inscription and erasure symbolizes the temporary presence of these individuals, creating a powerful memorial.

Related categories





Symbolic Images/Objects

Figurative Sculpture

Abstract Sculpture

Diaspora / Migration

Introspection / Meditation

Daily Life Experience


Collective Memories


Life and Death

Socio-political Issues

Public Art

Freedom of Expression


Sensory Experience

Tracking Memories