Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Memento Mori, Jewelry, Art, and Pictures

For those of you unaware of Victorian death photos, I would like to give you a warning that the following pictures in this post may be somewhat disturbing, and if you do not wish to see dead of actual people when they were would be the best time to skip through this post and ignore it.

"Remember thy death". When you see something simple like a skeleton dancing in an old cartoon, or a cloaked figure playing chess with Max von Sydow, you remember it. Perhaps not in the same way you should, though, given that many people nowadays would rather follow the philosophy of "momento mori non potesse", the idea that they can't die. I think this feeling may have contributed in just a tiny way to the gradual transition for the vampire to a protagonist over the years.

Back on topic, because I can't just always switch it back to vampires, most of us may view the whole concept of Victorian memento mori trinkets *such as death photos, locks of hair, and jewelry* quite morbid. Still others may find it unhealthy, thinking it glorifies death. I don't think it does. However, as distanced as Western culture has become from death, thankfully due to advances in medical technology, memento ultimately disturbing. It's creepy. It's...scary.

Out of all the pictures I've seen, this one really sends shivers down my spine. The picture itself, because this is clearly a family who had just begun their lives together. The story is even worse. Mary, the young mother in the coffin, murdered her husband and mortally wounded her baby before committing suicide. They had already lost a baby earlier due to sickness, and Mary had spent some time in the mental hospital as a result.

Photography was not cheap back then. You couldn't just pull out your phone, or even pick up a disposable piece of junk from your local store. People had to pose for long periods of time, and spend lots of money just to have a photograph taken. Sometimes the only reason a person would ever spend that kind of cash on a few photographs may be when a loved one has passed. What if you knew tomorrow that you would never see someone close to you again, never touch them, never even get closer than six feet? What if this was all you had to keep you comfort over the coming years without them?

Of course, there were other options. Hair, the natural thread most of us take for granted, could be cut from the dead, and crafted into simple little twists, or such intricate art, it's almost as if a part of that person lived on in a completely different way...

Pay close attention next time you find yourself in an antique shop. You'd be surprised at how many of these pieces of art and photographs you may find.

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