These stones can all be found on Plymouth's Old Burial Hill. All date from the first half of the nineteenth century (1821-1855). I'm not quite sure what to make of them. The first two look like something from an art deco frieze, the second two have a little Middle Eastern flair, and the final two look like late 20th-century interpretations of ye olde folke art.
Ugh, what a collapse of artisanal quality. As soon as you hit the first couple of decades of the 1800s in most places, gravestones are just no longer interesting as works of art and craftsmanship. (That's my aesthetic opinion for the day.)
To understand these flat designs my guess is one would have to understand whatever new kind of equipment was being used to make them. I'm conjecturing here, but I think what you see is the disappearance of the free-hand hammer and chisel, and the introduction of jigs and templates to speed up carving. The result is a completely de-individualized, mass produced object.
Print typographers talk about the 1800s as being a dark age of typography, and that shows up on the gravestones too, with ugly boldface and left-sloping italics. (OK, that was another aesthetic opinion for the day.)
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