We would like to point out a new online resource on the iconography of Jewish gravestones. It is the “Written in Stone” page of the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage web site.
The page summarizes material from a number of online and print sources about the meaning and history of Jewish gravestones, in particular an article on Tombstones by Marcin Wodzinski on the online YIVO Encyclopaedia, which is quoted throughout the page.
The page focuses on Rohatyn, in western Ukraine, and is illustrated by scores of photographs of gravestones and fragments from there. But much of the material on the page can be applied to Jewish gravestone art and iconography elsewhere in eastern Europe, as well as in other regions, including in North America.
A matzevah (Hebrew מצבה, a Jewish grave marker; plural matzevot) is both a memorial and a puzzle, carrying historical information as well as literary and sculptural artistic value. […] Many of the Rohatyn grave markers, even those in small fragments, show some architecture-inspired decoration, usually in the panel borders, supporting the pediment, or at the base. In our ongoing work, we have documented a few examples with arcades, many with columns, several with draperies (especially surrounding candelabra…), and a number of fragments with faux brickwork. These elements serve to frame both the text panels and the figurative motifs.