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Victorian Era Post-Mortem Photographs: Unsettling Or Loving?


After the invention of daguerreotype, the memorializing habits have changed a lot: we have chosen the cheap, higher quality pictures instead of expensive paintings.

Painting dead people was common for centuries, and in the Victorian Era, post-mortem photos also came into fashion.

Because of the high infant mortality rate, this was an important way to memorialize lost family members. In some cases, this was the only photograph that featured the family together.

The earliest post-mortem photographs are close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin.

The subject is usually photographed to look like they are in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were shown on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy. It was not uncommon to take a picture with very young children with a family member, most preferably the mother.

While some images, (especially tintypes and ambrotypes), have a rosy tint added to the cheeks, it is untrue that metal stands and other strange devices were used to pose the dead as though they were living. The use by photographers of a stand or arm rest which aided living persons to remain still long enough for the camera’s lengthy exposure-time, has given rise to this myth.

Later examples show the subject in a coffin. Some very late examples show the deceased in a coffin with a group of funeral attendees; this type of photograph was especially popular in Europe.

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 holy lying in the coffins, are still circulated among faithful Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians.

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