Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Death in the Victorian Era part 4 – Post Mortem Photography

Death in the Victorian Era (part 4)
 – Post Mortem Photography 

“What a comfort it is to possess the image of those who are removed from our sight. We may raise an image of them in our minds but that has not the tangibility of one we can see with our bodily eyes.”- Flora A.Windeyer, in a letter to Rev. John Blomfield, November 1870.

 It was common place, for those that could afford it in the Victorian Era, to have portraits of family members commissioned during their life time, or upon death. With the invention of photography, a far cheaper form of memorial portrait came into existence, “post-mortem photography”, also known as ‘Memento Mori’ (In Latin “Remember that you must die” or in Art; an object, such as a skull (or photograph) as a reminder of death or mortality).

 A photograph would be taken of the deceased loved one, sometimes laying in their coffin, or they might be propped up in a chair sitting amongst living family members or posed, through specially made apparatus, to be standing, as if alive, posed with their favourite possessions.
The usual practice was for the deceased to appear as if they were sleeping peacefully.
 On occasion children would be made to sit beside their dead relative for a photo, could you imagine how disturbing this must’ve been for a young child?

 The whole experience was to remember the deceased loved one, who would soon be buried, and to be able to gaze upon then that one last time. Some families even went to the trouble of having postcards made of the deceased person to send to family members on the other side of the country, or world!

Next Week: Death in the Victorian Era part 5: Victorian Funeral Etiquette

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