In Part 1 of “15 Victorian Death Portraits That Will Give You Chills,” we displayed some of the eeriest real-life photographs ever taken! While having a portrait of your dead body wasn’t too uncommon a custom during the 19th century– especially for those who could afford it– today such a practice taking place would be considered suspicious at best and downright criminal at worst.
You’ve likely seen a Victorian era death portrait before, whether it was depicted in a period horror flick, such as The Others starring Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan, or elsewhere. However you might need even more of a tolerance build-up for what is to unfold here: 15 Creepy Victorian Death Portraits That Will Give You Chills (Part 2)! Read on to learn some facts and see some sights that had previously been reserved for only a select few (families of the deceased and historians).
In the list below there are many images that don’t do justice to the horror of what daily life was like for those pictured. Indeed, death portraits were often taken in order to help those photographed “live on” through pictures, and better to live stylishly than how real life might have actually been.
Don’t be surprised if you have to re-adjust your eyes a few times after seeing some of the amazing trickery executed by skilled Victorian era photographers in the photos below. Everything from leg-stands to simulated body parts were employed to generate the maximum effect in death portraits, and in many cases the photographers were intending to be as dramatic as possible! Viewing photos of dead people isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (to say the least), but one thing’s for sure: the individuals pictured may have felt otherwise.
15. Other-Worldly Adornment Of Spanish Woman
In this delicately arranged photograph (can we say flowery goodness?), we see how the Victorian era had a sensitive and compassionate way of handling the deaths of people who, whether gone too soon or considered the lucky few who experience a long life, can live on through their death portraits. This woman was likely considered one of life’s victors, appearing to be well over the average age of death during the era, which was just 42 years for women and 40 years for men. Many of the Victorian era’s wealthier families throughout the globe were lucky enough to take portraits of themselves before they passed away. However, luckily, a reverence for the deceased was so strong that there’s always an easily unveiled anchor to the community’s appreciation for the great unknown. Notice the ornate flower arrangements corresponding with the headdress that adorns the woman’s body.
14. Newborn Baby That Medicine Just Couldn’t Save
In the case of dealing with unexpected and morbid loss of life, photographers were sure to carry the true weight of the family and loved one’s experience in their photos during the Victorian era. Here we see a mother and father who plainly fought the death of their daughter to the bitter end. The crude medicine of the time couldn’t save this little one, who appears ever so peaceful in the arms of her parent, who patiently waited for the extremely long exposure time the photographers of the day required in order to successfully capture their images. Many children were less than 5 years-old in death portraits, Part 1 revealed. Even the seller of this very photograph emphasizes the fact that the individuals pictured oh so many years ago wanted to ensure that generations of viewers understood just how much science and medicine can advance.
13. 1 Person Here Is Dead, But Can You Guess Who It Is?
This photo shows us something that might as well be as ordinary as apple pie, yet the gruesome reality of Victorian era death portraits portraying the dead as though they were very much alive sends a chill up our spines. The little girl who sits in the wooden chair is very much a typical example of how the photographers managed children after death as well as they still do when they’re alive to this day! The friend of the deceased toddler holds a life-like doll next to a child that may have died as a result of a myriad of causes, as young children were extremely susceptible to illness. In the worst and poorest districts, two out of ten babies died in their first year. One fourth of them would die by age five. Life expectancy varied greatly depending upon the quality of the area in which people lived. In industrial towns, like Liverpool, the average life expectancy was twenty-six years.
12. Eerie Baby Photograph Artfully Adorned By Candlelight
This baby was one of the many victims the Victorian era’s harsh conditions, which really affected children and babies. With the innovation of photography having only been a few generations old, the young technology was utilized by clever and savvy members of society as well as the internet is used today. Despite having not much of a precedent in place in terms of what kind of pictures to take for different situations, the delicate treatment of some of the dead in photographers’ books was impressive indeed. So many of the death portraits from the Victorian era use flowers, which may represent the opposite of death: life. In this case, ensuring that the child appeared as tranquil as possible was definitely achieved in this photo, with the child’s eyes, mouth and neck open, yet the hands and feet closed or concealed.
11. Laying Upright: Deceased Baby In Vertical Casket
This takes the metaphor of celebrating death through life with the use of flowers to a whole new elaborate level, perhaps because the family who commissioned the photos were wealthy. This child is posing with one hand holding a bouquet of what seem to be real flowers with 2 other floral arrangements adorning him at his feet and lower left side. There were many reasons to emphasize the mourning of a child’s passing, one of which being that the Victorian era valued such elaborate decoration. Yet the advancement of technology and innovation often requires brutal honesty, from Queen Victoria’s decision to forego breastfeeding her own children, to the very photo we see above, which was made public during the time it was taken and made more of an impact than perhaps tweeting about a loved one’s death could achieve today!
10. Dead Dog: In France, Still Leashed After Death?
This French 19th century death portrait gives us a taste of the flair of what was and still is the fashion capitol of the known universe. Whether or not this dog deserved the attention it received in the above photo, which provides a look at how its life on a leash might have actually been during its living times, we might assume that the statement the photo makes was important. Three individuals stand mourning a dead dog that was perhaps one of the luckiest in its neighborhood. While we don’t know how many wet and delicious treats this canine received before its death, we can speculate that it died a little earlier than its owners– who ensured its leash was attached for the photo– would have wanted. This dog, which appears to be a purebred of some type, might have been shown regularly in some of the centuries notable dog shows.
9. Laying In Repose: His Hair And Skin Are Ahead Of His Time
This photo depicts the beard wearer before the beard wax became a post-2012 recessionisto (and in some parts of the Castro, recessionista) trademark for many who are blessed with the coveted follicles naturally on the outer jaw. Not one of this photographer’s objectives seems out of place, perhaps because the loved ones of the deceased were willing to allow maximum time for the taking of the image that may have been their only way of remembering their lost friend. Looks might be deceiving in death portraits especially when the subject has their eyes closed; they may have been closed due to an attempt to fool a viewer into believing any number of assumptions– including that they were asleep! Some noticeable trends with the lateral posing dead models are the clothing. A non-casket bound model was much more lively in Victorian era death portrait than a subject who’s clearly on the way to the great and mysterious underground storage place of their family’s choosing.
8. Well-Dressed Babies Holding Hands: But One’s Dead!
This quaint post-mortem photo shows us how life was back under the reign of Queen Victoria. Living under the imperial rule of one of Britain’s most notable monarchs was something that came with its fair share of perks, as well as downsides. There were some trends set by the Queen that didn’t necessarily bode well for subjects in Great Britain, or the rest of the world. Yet the lasting impact of the times’ most talked about phenomenon– photography’s innovation– is clear. When death no longer went unnoticed, but could now be on display for eternity because of photographic images, the urgency in making a strong impact with every picture of dead children took a pronounced turn in imagery. This kind of couple, two young dress-clad kids, were just the subject of a photographer determined to serve his clients as well as the future with a proper picture for both the living and the dead.
7. Too Many Cooks? Or The More The Merrier?
This is a threesome of proportions not yet seen before the advent of photography hit Victorian era inhabitants of the globe like a cyclone. A true masterpiece in the realm of post-mortem photography, this pricey image (which had previously been reserved for the decedents of the attractive family) is now on display in some of the world’s most critical art galleries showcasing Victorian era death photography. The comedic tragedy here is something for more than just historians to ponder, so let’s take a closer look. This time, unlike in the case above the trio, we see the dead subjects in an actual casket. Yet the question as to whether the family was actually buried together or were simply placed close to one another with the convenience of their being dead and the fact that caskets are good for close-ups remains unanswered. Perhaps the presumably good looking living kin of this nuclear family can shed light as to the nature of the family’s final death arrangements.
6. Metal Stand Makes For Good Post-Mortem Posture
To this day, photographers use props to enhance their portraits value. When a client pays them their asking price for an image that deserves the title of “decadent.” or at the very least the stamp of the photography house commissioned to conduct the shoot, you can bet that the resulting photo will be worth the glance. Depending on the weight and height of each dead subject pictured, post-mortem photographers were able to ensure that their very lively likeness was immortalized through film, which took exceptionally long amounts of time to produce. According to the family’s wishes, their loved ones were made to look nothing less than the persona that their lives carried through and through. This deceased individual seems to have been quite the mover and shaker, completing his look with a top hat and a well-pressed formal suite.
5. Holding A Decapitated Head: Life’s Too Short!
This is number 10 because, whether real or fake, it definitely makes one wonder: how is the body so still when the head isn’t there for good-balance? Sitting a dead individual in a chair whilst their living comrade looms nearby seems to have been done at least a few times in post-mortem photos from the 19th century, however it’s unknown just what compelled this photographer to snap the image seen above when the living person’s body is only on a chair, thanks to a loved one holding their head in their lap! Use of a body stand is expertly concealed in this image, which was often done when the subjects weren’t alive (if a metal stand can be seen it doesn’t always mean that the subject was dead but in Victorian era death portraits that usually seems to have been the case). Here we can take a whole year in trying to determine exactly how this decapitation was justified, but let’s hope it wasn’t just for our viewing experience!
4. All The Dolls’ Eyes Are Open, But Dead Girls’ Are Closed
At number 11 is something that seems somewhat scary– a photographer making it clear that the child in the photo was definitely, as any good post-mortem photo should depict– dead! It may not be immediately clear, but after a sweep of the image from side to side one can see that all of the lifelike dolls of the time have open eyes, yet the child’s eyes are closed. There aren’t any other children in this photo either, yet perhaps that was part of the parents’ design in order to reveal that they had indeed lost their only offspring, perhaps to one of the many diseases that were common in the 19th century because of overcrowding. The use of a chair was not only able to help viewers of the post-mortem photo know who was dead here, but also to assist with the presence of the many toys that the child is now immortalized with through imagery.
3. Creepy: Eyes Have No Eyeballs
This is a picture that, if not belonging to a collectors Book of the Dead, would have just as easily been produced in some of the most terrifying of Hollywood thrillers depicting Victorian-era goth. The bearded individual seen sitting propped up in a wooden chair has definitely been dressed to the nines with a three-piece suite and bow-tie. Yet for some reason, the camera didn’t seem to capture the man’s perhaps naturally lighter-than-average eyeballs. It doesn’t help at all that the picture was intended to belong among others that the era produced of deceased individuals, especially since as the passage of time would have it, eyeball-less subjects from the period were potentially enchanted psychics or oracles (think The Others starring Nicole Kidman).
2. Beyond Belief: Eyeless Grandma with Shocked Grandson
In this case of other-worldly and godforsaken expressions of the deceased through post-mortem imagery, we can say one thing for sure: eyes were definitely a focus of the photographers in Victorian era death portraits. Our last image depicted an individual who perhaps just had very light hazel or blue eyes that the cameras of the time simply couldn’t pick up well. However in this case, the cause of death for the deceased person (seated as often seems to be the case in a chair) is completely gone! The elderly woman not only doesn’t have eyes, but appears to have struggled with serious tooth decay issues over the span of her longer-than-average life. The young child also seems to have eyes that appear abnormal, but this could be a result of nothing more than child ignoring the photographer’s instruction to act naturally.
1. Decayed Face With Terminator-Looking Glass Eye
This post-mortem photo shows us that no amount of touching-up could have changed the brutal reality of the subject’s condition before the photoshoot from even the most renowned of 19th century photography companies. When the body decays after death, especially in the face, families are left with relatively few choices when it comes to how they’re dressed and “made-up.” In this case, the individual captured by a photographer in the post-death image seen above had definitely suffered from a certain degree of bacterial infection, either before or after their death. Before the medical advancements of the 20th century, such as penicillin, there were few ways to prevent dead bodies from becoming overwhelmed with parasitic bacterial infections. Sometimes these same bacteria led to the deaths of subjects in post-mortem photographs to begin with. Ironically, the creepiest photo in our list is none other than a quilted crochet adorned subject. Talk about contrast!
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