The Significance of a Pleurant


Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.2

Photo: Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

The Significance of a Pleurant

Pleurant: coming from pleurez meaning ‘to weep’ in French.

A pleurant symbolises solitude, spirituality, introspection, and sorrow.

For centuries pleurant figures have been carved into tombs and, in art in general, exist to show mourning so intense that it is also isolation – shutting away the world out of pain.

Historically, a person who suffered great loss, or felt the need for spiritual penance would go to the monks and make a request to become a pleurant. If granted, they would spend a year or more under the heavy cloths, completely cut off from the world.

No one talked to a pleurant or interacted with them (they basically treated them as if they were not in part of physical world, rather that they were in the spiritual world). Basic food would be left where the pleurant was able to access it as needed.

The pleurant would use their solitude to wander the grounds working through their pain, trying to find God and overcome the great emotional burden they were bearing.

And when the pleurant felt that their need was finished, the pleurant would simply remove the cloths and return to the regular world.


Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

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© @ValentyneDreams — Valentyna Holloway 2016

George Frederic Watts ~ Choosing, 1864.

Choosing, George Frederic Watts

Choosing, (artist’s wife, Dame Ellen Terry), detail, c. 1864, George Frederick Watts

George Frederic Watts (British, 1817–1904) ~Choosing, 1864.
Oil on strawboard. Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London.

After training in Italy in the 1840s, Watts produced many portraits, literary and history paintings, and murals. Here, he painted a lyrical portrait of his wife, the actress Ellen Terry, wearing her wedding dress, a Renaissance-inspired gown designed by William Holman Hunt. She lifts showy camellias to her face, crumpling the modest but more sweetly scented violets in her hand. Terry acted as muse to both Julia Margaret Cameron and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).