University of Toronto
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design
Annual Undergraduate Journal
Published Essay (No online version available)
"The Nature of Commemoration in The Arch of Constantine &
The Katyn Monument"
Sculptural ornamentation is endowed with a unique visual language which varies across time and space. How these cultural artifacts choose to convey the ideals of a particular society, and more importantly to whose advantage, is a noteworthy topic for the historical materialist. In examining ornament as a sculptural artifact dedicated to the memorialization of war in particular, two monuments offer vastly different interpretations. The Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Katyn Monument in Toronto both interpret and express wartime events in very different ways; through ornament, they communicate two unique perspectives: one of victory, and one of loss. Historical narratives are said to be constructed by the ‘victor(s)’, that is, the winning party of a war or battle – or so Walter Benjamin once claimed. It can be argued, however, that a shift in the function and meaning of commemorative sculpture illustrated by the aforementioned artifacts can be endowed with a weak messianic power.