Memento Mori is an artistic style that dates back hundreds of years. The phrase itself is Latin, and dates from the days of the Roman Republic. During Triumphs, when victorious Roman generals would parade through the streets of the Eternal City with their prisoners and spoils, a slave would stand behind the great man whispering, “Remember, you will die.”. This reminder of our shared mentality was meant to keep the triumphant general humble. Given how one such general by the name of Caesar went on to take over the Republic and found an Empire, you can see how well that worked.
Regardless, Memento Mori continued as an art style in song, sculpture, and paintings on up through the Middle ages. However, the art form reached its creepy apex in the Victorian Era, with the advent of photography. You see, old style photography was a ponderous, time consuming process that would require its subjects to sit still for hours at a time. Some enterprising, no doubt mustachioed fellow realized that dead people didn’t move. After this “ah ha!” moment, Victorian death photography was born. It provided a way for grieving families to keep a memento of their lost loved one. For those of us in later ages, it provides no end of heebie jeebies. Just remember as you look a these, that the family members had to sit with the corpse for hours while the picture was taken, and that the loved one likely had only passed a few hours before or so, as they wanted to take the photos before decomposition set in. Oh and in some photos the living appear a bit blurred out, as they might sometimes move during the photography process, while the corpse stands out nice and sharp. Oh and sometimes they would close the corpse’s eyes and paint fake eyes on the back of their eyelids. And when a mother died in child birth, they would put a shroud over her head and photograph her with her child. Enjoy!