Post-Mortem Portraits

Leading off this week’s This Week at MHS e-newsletter is this rather startling image–to modern eyes, anyway. Post-mortem photography emerged soon after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 and evolved over the course of the 19th century. Photography, more affordable than commissioning a painted portrait, enabled families to memorialize loved ones and became commonplace.

The fact that it would be considered almost taboo today (at least in Western culture) says a lot about changing attitudes regarding death and dying over the past two centuries. In the mid-19th century and prior, death itself was more commonplace and closer to home. Over time, medical advances and the transition to the hospital as where one went to die created a distance between the living and the dying that hadn’t been as pronounced as before.

The subject of this ca. 1843 portrait is Mrs. William H. Herbert, daughter of George Barker, a ship captain in Bangor. Read more about this item and, if you choose to, view another post-mortem photograph of a child on Maine Memory.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s