Memorial Portraiture: The Victorian Obsession with Death

Photography as a public medium that would transform our view of the world became possible following the development of the daguerreotype process in 1839.

Over the next two decades as photography became more commonplace it provided an opportunity for those, in particular the urban middle class who could not otherwise afford a formal portrait of their loved ones to have a permanent reminder of them in death.

This was important because death was part and parcel of life in Victorian Britain with outbreaks of epidemics such as cholera and typhoid fever frequent and deadly.

As a result Memorial Portraiture, as it became known, was to remain popular throughout most of the Victorian era with the photograph taken of the recently deceased often being the only reminder the family had of them.

It was common then for the dead to be photographed in their best clothes and in what was considered to be a familiar pose. Indeed, sometimes with the use of props they were even pictured standing up.

It was also common for a mother to be photographed with her recently deceased baby or infant child.

The practice of Memorial Portraiture can seem macabre to us today in our world where death is something to be denied, hidden from view, and not embraced in periods of sustained mourning and commemoration.

vict mem woman with child

vict mem family on bed x

vict mem mother with children & dead baby

vict mem staring eyes x

vict mem woman on chez longe

vict mem g b with dead baby

vict mem man standing x

vict mem man being photo x

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