Thursday, March 3, 2011

Death Masks and Post Mortem Photos




What are death masks?

They are molds made upon the dead person’s face to forever hold their image in three dimensions (Alfred Hitchcock in photo above). From Socyberty online “The making of a death mask is a messy business – literally. They are difficult to make and the best position for the corpse is not lying down but sitting up. The shift from sculpture to masks came about in the Middle Ages when the art of waxwork and plaster casting became more sophisticated. The tradition evolved from royalty to eminent people and continues to this day. Another use, rather than in memoriam for an individuals was for the scientific study of human physiognomy. It was said that experts could tell criminals from the shape of their heads. Casts were also used to record and collect data on the racial differences in the human head.”

What are Post Mortem Photos?

They were very popular in the Victorian era when photography was relatively new. Families felt comforted to get a picture of their lost loved one, often times the only record they have of their existence since photos were rare for many families. Often times, the baby would be held in the parent’s arms or photos taken in a coffin or with family members around (or propped up between their parents like the photo above). As macabre as it seems, it put a reality on the loss. There were other memorials made for the grieving families including wall hangings made with designs done in the dead one’s hair woven throughout it and funeral flowers.

As creepy as these things may be, they are also morbidly fascinating. A Google image check for post mortem photos and death masks shows you a wide array of images that make you stop and stare in amazement. It was quite a different era during the Victorian times. It not only brought such morbid deathbed images, but also a fascination with séances and spiritualistic practices. Interesting how that fascination with death also came with a very puritanical time sexually and clothing that covered the body on every surface. They apparently had no issues with mortality, but only with mortal urges.

13 comments:

  1. YEEK! That second photo gives me the creeps. I can't help but think that "Death Photography" is truly a macabre invention.

    On another note, a lot of haunters I know seem to think Victorian fashion is cool, and should be brought back. No, I don't get it either; I've always preferred stuff from the 1930's and 40's, i.e. fedoras, trench coats, etc.

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  2. HN;
    I adore Victorian era clothing long before Steampunk came in. I adore Steampunk, of course, but I tend more towards the British Safari/Egyptian Pyramid excavation wear. I'm such a dork! My mom had a bunch of those creepy photos of her dead relative and family gathered around the coffin back in the early 1900s and it was outdoors and it was just so bizarre. I have been fascinated ever since. Kind of Weekend at Bernie's, though.

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  3. Don't get me wrong, I like Victorian stuff, but just for costumes, and characters, not for everyday wear.

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  4. I'm more crazy that way. I do like the ruffly tops and the antique boots and I adore pocket watches. I would put one piece with an outfit and not a lot. Like I adore safari, but if I wear safari shorts,I don't team it up with a safari vest and hat. Then, it becomes a costume. Fashion 101 from Autumnforest. hee hee

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  5. Death masks are pretty cool. The Henry Ford Museum has a life mask AND a death mask of Abraham Lincoln.

    But taking photos with the deceased relatives? Creepy!

    At least it's better than the custom of keeping deceased relatives in the house for the whole mourning period, as they do in some cultures.

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  6. Yeah. I watched a cool documentary on people who bury their own family members. It's becoming a new trendy thing. The people get to be in on the decorating of their coffin by family members and picking where they will bury them and the family prepares the body and buries it. I'm not sure I could do that. You have to have your head in the right place to make that happen.

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  7. yeah the post mortem photos are creepy to me! i don't want any photo of dead me lying around. : D

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  8. I'm getting some "weekend at bernie's" thoughts from this posts. What about post-mortem videos? Here's Brandon, playing fetch with his dog...one last time...

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  9. Sandra;
    Seriously, not a good photo op. What if they capture you in your bad angle?

    L.I.I.;
    I couldn't stop laughing. I know it's serious business, but the idea of propping up a dead one between you is seriously like Weekend at Bernie's when the roving party arrived. All the person needed was some sunglasses and a cigarette.

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  10. i know that masks have been used for burials, and actually it makes scence. I won't like to look like shit after some time.

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  11. Echo, sweets,if anyone is digging you up and looking at you when you're old and gone,then I'd worry more about them than how you look. I'm giving up my organs and being cremated. I should look rather smokin'. Oh jeez, I'm in a goofy mood tonight. :-)

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  12. As you may know I have collected Victorian Mourning items for some time. I have a few mourning hair wreaths that are even nicer than the one we have in our local museum. I have a LOT of stuff that I treasure. I am planning on continuing my collection and expanding on it when finances permit. The only item I have not yet collected are the photos. That's next on my agenda! I'll do a post one day when I am able to get to my stuff and photograph it to show everyone. It's a really interesting hobby!

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