You may have seen this well-known sculpture depicting an expressive and wonderful angel, but never known the story behind it.
It’s the last major work by sculptor, lawyer, writer, and poet William Wetmore Story (1819-1895), and is located in the Protestant Cemetery (also called the Cemetery of the English) in Rome, near the Cestia Pyramid, where great personalities such as poets Shelley and Keats and thinkers such as the Russian Ivanov are buried.
Story, wracked with sadness at the death in 1894 of his wife, who was his companion and muse, dedicated the sculpture to her. He died a year after she did, just months after finishing the memorial, which bears the full title of “The Angel of Grief Weeping Over the Dismantled Altar of Life.” It now watches over the remains of both the husband and wife — and their son Joseph, who died in Rome when he was just 6 years old.
The couple had three other children, all artists like their father: Thomas Waldo Story became a sculptor, Julian Russell Story a successful portrait painter, and Edith Marion, Marquise Peruzzi de’ Medici, a writer.
The monument, according to the artist himself, “represents the angel of grief, in utter abandonment, throwing herself with drooping wings and hidden face over a funeral altar. It represents what I feel. It represents prostration. Yet to do it helps me.”
William’s expression of love for his beloved wife inspired several copies. In 1901, a replica was placed in Palo Alto, California, in the Stanford University Arboretum, in honor of Henry Lathrop, brother of Stanford University co-founder Jane Lathrop Stanford.
Other replicas can be found in cemeteries in various parts of the world, including New York, Maryland, California, Vancouver (Canada), San Jose (Costa Rica), and Santiago (Cuba).
The image has also found a place in the musical world; the Angel of Grief has been featured on album covers by a variety of bands, such as Odes of Ecstasy, Evanescence, Nightwish, and Anabantha.