Memento Mori – Victorian celebration of death

I have briefly mentioned the obsession of the Victorians and  artist/photographers fascination with creating images of dead children in the main historical points. From the  ‘carriage to the coffin’ was the fate of over 30% of 19th century children. The Victorian celebration of death meant  that postmortem photographs, carte de visit or cabinet cards were often displayed prominently on the mantlepiece in the home, as well as in memento mori in the form of brooches and lockets with a photo and a lock of the deceased’s hair. Queen Victoria, the ‘Widow of Windsor’ after Prince Alberts death in 1861 retreated into melancholy seclusion for a decade, and made mourning fashionable big business, with women expected to wear widow’s black then purple for at least 2 years.


In most Victorian post-mortem photography, the deceased children were  shown peacefully sleeping, especially precious, since little or no pictures were taken before their death. Most children were propped up and surrounded by their toys to give a more lifelike feel. Sometimes the parents or siblings were shown posed with the deceased child. A single negative could produce multiple prints enabling the family to send the picture to other relatives. Most pictures were thought to be a keepsake rather than an alarming reminder of short mortality.

These poignant, post mortem photos antique baby photos from the Victorian era are a relic from the past which is highly collectable today. The images are forevercharged with deeply felt emotions which still reverberate in the viewers mind today.

‘Sleeping Beauty – memorial photography’ by Stanley Burns

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