Victorian Post-Mortem Photography


Memento Mori: Death and Photography in 19th Century America
Victorian Etiquette for Funerals
Victorian Hairwork Society
Association for Gravestone Studies
Sally Mann - PBS special
How to Make Your Own Sugar Skulls
Highgate Cemetery: "When burial conditions in London became intolerable in the early 19th Century, Parliament authorised the creation of seven private Cemeteries within the periphery of inner London. Of these Highgate was opened in 1839 (the West Cemetery) and extended in 1854 (the East Cemetery)." [From the website] Mental Floss: Only the Creepiest Photos Ever Taken
The Thanatos Archive
Morbid Anatomy's Memento Mori Post
The Paul Frecker Collection

Memento Mori - Remember you too will die
Ars Moriendi - The art of dying
Carpe Diem - Sieze the day
Carpe Noctem - Sieze the night


YouTube piece on Sally Mann

Nadar, Sarah Bernhardt. 1865

Click here for a New York Times piece on Ms. Bernhardt and here at The Jewish Museum for an archived essay from their 2005 exhibition.

Mourning Jewelry, c. 1900


by Susan and Jim Harran for AntiqueWeek, Dec 1997

Mourning jewelry mirrored the lives and times of the people who wore it. It was a souvenir to remember a loved one, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death, and a status symbol, especially during the Victorian era.

The earliest examples of mourning jewelry were found in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Black and white enameled heads or skulls were often set into rings and brooches. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was a status symbol to present mourning rings to friends and families of the bereaved.

Mourning jewelry reached its height of popularity in England after the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. Queen Victoria went into deep mourning, which was imitated by her subjects when faced with their own bereavements.

For more, go directly to the source:

An unmounted, citrine print, probably from France, measuring 5.1" by 7" (128 mm by 175 mm)

There is a precedent for post-mortem imagery in earlier painting, usually showing clerics reposed. This photograph recalls such imagery.

The Daguerreotypes - Early, specialized portraiture

Anon., Child. c. 1870s.

Anon., Mother and Child. c. 1860s.

Anon., Woman. c. 1880s.

Anon, Sisters. c. 1890s.

The 20th Century

c. 1900


Child in "death room/parlor", c. 1910. Notice the shadow on the right.


A Bulgarian widower gazing for the last time on the beautiful face of his dead wife, 10 March 1920.

American, unknown photographer

Twins in an open coffin propped up on a shawl-covered armchair.
Photographed by G.W. Bauder of Marinette, Wisconsin.

A modern Pietà (Italian for pity/compassion) from the 1930s.

Memento Mori in Art

Vanitas - Latin for vanity, refers to a type of still life consisting of a collection of objects that symbolize death — the brevity of human life and the transience of earthly pleasures and achievements (e.g., a human skull, a mirror, and broken pottery). [, 2-9-08.]

Pietà, Michelangelo, 1499.

Painted by Euphronios, The Death of Sarpedon., c. 515 BCE

Hans Memling, Vanity and Salvation, c. 1485

This imagery serves as a warning that vanity - beauty and earthly indulgence are futile in the faces of death and hell.

Hans Holbein, Dance of Death (Danse Macabre). 1538.

Tombstone of Andrew Drake, 1684 - Death's Head image

Allan C. Gilbert, All Is Vanity. 1892.

Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas - (reduced to the three iconographic elements). Mid-17th Century.

Sugar Skull

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991.

"But I'm more interested in why people are frightened by Jaws and why Jaws was such a hit than saying Spielberg's my main influence."

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007.

"I started thinking how here in England, or the Western world for that matter, we’re obsessed with skulls. We avoid confronting death. So it just seemed really weird that we love the image of the skull and worship it and celebrate it...." Click here for the source of this quote and the full interview w/Damien Hirst.

"If you’re just making art for money then it’s fucked. But if you use your money to make great art, it’s the best thing you can do." -- Damien Hirst

Sally Mann, Untitled No. 9. 2000.

Quirky Images/Techniques - Fin

Unknown, Stereograph of Two Brothers.

Unknown, Two Brothers.

The portraitist acts in the same manner of the undertaker in adding color to the deceased to make him look more acceptable.

Baby in a flower-strewn pram.
Photographed by Alfred van Besien of 14, rue de Nord, Dixmude.

Tintype showing an infant in a wooden coffin of an unusual design.

A carte-de-visite showing Barry, a St Bernard dog who lived at a monastery along the Great St Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps. He became famous for the number of lives he had saved, over forty, his legend being promoted in the English-speaking world in order to increase tourism. Barry remained at the monastery until his death at the age of fourteen, when he was mounted and put on exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Berne. In an attempt to recall his servitude, the taxidermist gave the mounted Barry a rather meek and humble attitude, but in 1923 he was refurbished - his coat having become brittle had broken into over twenty pieces - and given a more confident and happier demeanour.

His body, which is still on display today, shows a much smaller dog than the modern St Bernard. After an accident killed off a large part of the monastery’s kennel, the surviving dogs were crossed with mastiffs to breed the present-day look.

There is a statue of Barry – the name, incidentally, derives from the Swiss German for ‘bear’ – at the entrance to the Cimitière des Chiens in Paris.

Photographed by Emil Nicola Karlen of Berne, Switzerland, identified by his backplate on the reverse of the mount. [Source]

Photo: John Burton and Sons, with branches in Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Burton-on-Trent.

Four girls mourning their dog.

Sally Mann, Untitled No. 17 (Eva). 2000.

Victorian Funeral Carriage

The family decides about how many it wishes to invite to the interment, and provides carriages for them. A list is made out, and given to the undertaker, that he may know about how many carriages will be needed, and in what order to arrange them. Many bring their own carriages, but a certain number is provided by the family, among which are those for the pall-bearers, and clergyman, when he accompanies the dead to the grave. [Source]

The Victorians were like the Egyptians in their desire to pay for a big send-off at the end of one's life. They differed, however, in that most Victorians tended not to believe in an afterlife.

This image incorporates the post-mortem photograph and spirit photography - a Victorian obsession from the 1850s on. The imagery can become increasingly melodramatic in this genre.