It is a morbid, but poignant topic to touch on, but all the same it fascinates me.
In the 1800’s post mortem photography was a popular trend. Most families were poor or bordering on poor and could not afford such luxuries as photographs were at the time. Paintings were for the rich families and most people lived their lives without momento pictures at all. So post mortem photography came into fashion. Families would save up and as part of bereavement would have photographers come into their homes (funeral parlours were little to non existant back then) and take photos of the family next to the recently deceased loved one. This photo was then either copied and given out to other relatives of the family, or put into a trinket such as a locket or ring and the family member would wear this proudly about their everyday life.
Some photographers advertised that they could photograph the deceased as “lifelike” and would prop the corpse up to look like it was just sitting around being alive. Sometimes pictures would be edited and the eyes would be painted open so as to give a more “lifelike” appearance. Relatives were photographed sitting next to the corpse, or as with some parents who had lost children, they had the children sitting on their knees. Child mortality rate was very high in Victoria era so these kinds of pictures are quite common.
In that time death was not so much of a taboo as it is now, with seances and spiritualism being at an all time high. People are now living to a much later age in life so this practise would naturally be taboo or unheard of as people actually LOOK very sick and very dead when they die. Back in those days, people died young and so the images seemed to capture youth and gave the impression of a deep, peaceful sleep.
I have not included any images in this post due to the delicate nature of the subject. For those of you who are interested and would like to learn more, information can be found at Wikipedia.com.