Victorian and Edwardian mourning rituals could be quite strict, especially when compared to today’s nearly complete lack of ritual. These rituals were in place to help ease the mourners suffering and also as a way of paying respect for the dead.
One ritual, however, did not survive the Victorian area. That would be the death photo also known as post-mortem photography, mourning portraits or memorial portraits. As the name implies, these were photographs that were taken of a deceased person.
They were popular almost from the invention of photography until around 1900 when it became possible for ordinary citizens to own a camera. In some families, the death photo was the only photograph a family would have of their loved one. It was meant to be used to remember the deceased fondly, not to provoke sadness.
Through our 21st century perspective, these memorial portraits seem strange, if not morbid.
Dead bodies were arranged as if they were alive, sometimes posed with living family members. Other photos show bodies in bed surrounded by flowers. Often times they were infants or children.
In many of the photos, the deceased do indeed look alive, but in others there is something just a bit creepy about seeing eyes in a blank stare, limbs looking awkward and babies in coffins.
In the photographs where it is more difficult to tell the living from the dead, the deceased was posed standing using props that kept the body upright. Eyelids could be propped open and in some cases eyes were painted on.
The following are examples of mourning portraits.
An example of a family posed with the dead.
A body posed in a coffin.
An adult photo. Can you tell which of these ladies is the deceased?
Yes, this child is dead.
A later photo shows a body in its death bed.
Mourning photos weren’t meant to be creepy, but this one certainly is.
Finally, this photo shows a photographer going about his work.
What went through your mind as you looked at the mourning portraits? Leave a comment below.
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