For a Sepia Saturday prompt, Alan gave us a photo of a man sleeping in a chair. Of course, that took my mind to the eternal slumber of death. Yes, morbid, but having had such a rousing discussion about the possible memento mori photo last week (survey said ‘no’ btw), I suppose it was on my mind. I wanted to stay with this theme, as I am positive I have no photos of people in actual slumber, and death was such a fascination to our Victorian ancestors after all.
This cabinet card is one I have posted before, when I introduced the Dobb Long Book earlier this year. I have a couple other memorial or death cards, but neither of them have the added benefit of the photograph. Based on the text on this particular card, we can surmise that Mrs. Nina Dobb died on June 27, 1898 and that this card was made a year later in 1899. Cabinet cards were still in use at that time, which is the cusp of the new century and new photographic processes and styles. Some time in the early 20th century, cabinet cards gave way to smaller cards, embossed cards, and the “sandwich” cards that look like the fancy mattes you find in modern framers galleries.
In some ways, this is also a memento mori, in that it is a memento of the death of a loved one. Thankfully it is not a photo of the loved one in death, which are most commonly associated with the term memento mori. In my research I learned that memento mori translates as “remember you must die,” and the objects associated with mourning have taken on the appellation as a category. These objects can range from hair jewelry to photographs and photographic jewelry. The Victorian relationship with death was much different than our modern one, because death was simply another part of life. They did not have the medical technology or understanding we have today, nor did they have the vaccines and antibiotics that help us prolong life. A death from the flu was not surprising and the Victorians in general took it as something out of their control of life. The greater reliance on faith and religion also may have helped them through the numerous instances of death that must have touched their lives.
Even today we have memento mori, except they are called memorial keepsakes, and often come in the form of a charm or pendant with the deceased’s name, and frequently are found as bumper stickers or tee shirts stating “in loving memory of…” and including the photo of the departed and their dates of birth and death. Tell us, are the tee shirts and stickers an American phenomenon or do they pop up in other countries?
Please click through to Sepia Saturday to see how others were inspired by the prompt of a sleeping man. You never really know what you’re going to get after all!