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The General William H. Sumner (1780-1861) monument was made in Rome, Italy by sculptor N. Cantala Mesa Papotti. Before the 1830s, sculpture as an art form did not really exist in America, and training was scarce. Starting in the 1830s, though, as American artists became more interested in pursuing sculpture as a profession, they started going to Italy for their training, which had a long and illustrious history dating back to ancient Greece and Rome as the world’s leader in the production of classical sculpture based on ancient Greek and Roman styles, done in the lovely white Italian Carrara marble.

Italy was full of marble cutting workshops, producing and copying standard designs such as busts of famous historical figures, or, as we see here, funerary monuments. Papotti’s angel is part of a long artistic tradition. Angels since the Renaissance have represented messengers from God. They were, and still are, a popular cemetery motif. Angels were often used at the graves of children, sometimes shown carrying the child up to Heaven. The thought that one's loved one was among the angels in Heaven, only awaiting a reunion with family and friends, was a comforting one. General Sumner’s monument was personalized on the base with a representation of a family crest, and on the front, in the medallion, a low-relief portrait of his face (now gone).

Notice also how bright the marble looks. The Sumner monument was cleaned in recent years, and so looks close to new. Originally, like most 19th century marble sculpture, the marble would have been polished to a high, glossy shine; white marble was blinding in sunlight, and practically glowed at dusk. Today, most marble monuments at Forest Hills are worn—but imagine all of them as bright white beacons on the landscape, as they looked originally. Perhaps this glowing white marble angel high above the visitors reminded them think of heavenly light?

The next stop is the John R. Robbins Monument.