Victorian post-mortem photography

Slightly more macabre follow up post to Hidden mothers in Victorian photography. Post-mortem photography is the practice of photographing the recently deceased. It is also known as memorial portraiture or memento mori.

A Victorian-era photograph of parents posing with their dead daughter. It was a custom in that era, before people could quickly travel great distances to attend funerals, to photograph the dead so their loved ones could see them as they were before burial.

The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture much more commonplace, as many of those who were unable to afford the commission of a painted portrait could afford to sit for a photography session. This cheaper and quicker method also provided the middle class with a means for memorializing dead loved ones.

These photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had.

The earliest post-mortem photographs are usually close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin. The subject is usually depicted so as to seem in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy or other plaything. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Flowers were also a common prop in post-mortem photography of all types.

The effect of life was sometimes enhanced by either propping the subject’s eyes open or painting pupils onto the photographic print, and many early images have a rosy tint added to the cheeks of the corpse.

Adults were more commonly posed in chairs.

Later examples show less effort at a lifelike appearance, and often show the subject in a coffin. Some very late examples show the deceased in a coffin with a large group of funeral attendees; this type of photograph was especially popular in Europe and less common in the United States.

Post-mortem photography is still practiced in some areas of the world, such as Eastern Europe. Photographs, especially depicting persons who were considered to be very holy lying in their coffins are still circulated among faithful Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians.

via Wikipedia and margaret gunning’s house of dreams

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2 thoughts on “Victorian post-mortem photography

  1. Cindi says:

    My heart goes out to the mothers that had to hold their babies while the photo was being taken. How difficult it must have been for them.

  2. Dan Reed says:

    It is sad when a child or loved one dies but not forget a majority of these pics were taken in the Victorian era and infant and stillborn deaths were sadly rife in the Victorian era. Yet sad still most people in victorian era only lived until around their 50s then only your lord and lady,s lived longer in grand castles and manors as most lived a clean healthy life away from city slums like Birmingham, London Manchester Liverpool example where disease and poverty was rife. Yet in todays society we take far too much for granted and expect everything on a plate also technology to partly blame too.

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