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Snippet of The Art History Babes: Death Portraiture

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Best Art History Podcasts Picture yourself walking through the warm, welcoming walls of a museum as you explore this curated list of the best art history podcasts. Listen to discussions surrounding Chinese sculpture of Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, the history of and our relationship with death portraiture, the history of different sculptures, and so much more. Hear about the ubiquitous names in art like Michelangelo and Picasso, and as well as lesser-known artists like Lee Krasner and the nightmarish worlds of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. Vurbl Arts, Society, and Culture
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Learn about the history of Victorian death portraiture. The hosts discuss how the societal relationship with death has changed, the process of post-mortem photography and painting, and more.
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this if you like what we're doing. Also promo. We wrote a book. It's pretty cool if you haven't heard anything about it. We've got it linked in the show. Notes for you. Please check it out. Yeah, yeah. We're proud of that crowd. Check it. People seem to like it. That feels good. I feel good about that. Yeah, So just get those little, you know, self promotion, shameless self promotion, out of the way. And now we can we can dive into it. We can get to talking about this topic that is just so so spooky and interesting and rich, and it elicits such great response from so many different people. And yeah, I'm just so excited about it. So I think, Jenny, you are going to start us off with some of the history of Victorian death portraiture. Yes, yes. So Victorian death portraiture or postmortem portraiture? This really just brings to mind a lot of cultural aspects about the 19th century. Primarily the fact that in the 19th century people died quite a lot, and especially when they were young, like Children often did not make it through childhood. Or, you know, the infant mortality rates were very high. And on top of all that, they were dealing with a lot of epidemics. Maybe this feels a little bit more resolute now, given the pandemic that we're currently living through. Yeah, you know. Yes. Maybe portion. No, that's too dark. I won't make that joke anyways. Sit on you, Jenny. I would have made it. It's gonna say always cut it out. I always say it to us, e. Maybe like death portraiture will have Ah, resurgence. Oh, yeah. Well, that's not the most insane thoughts while Yeah. Yeah. So really, in the 19th century, there were there were all kinds of things that were killing people. Diptheria side note. My grandpa had that he didn't live in the Victorian area, but not like that far after what those were you shit yourself a lot not to disparage your grandfather's memory, but, you know, I'm just curious. I don't think so. I know what you're thinking of, but I think that diphtheria let me look it up really quick because I should know this diptheria attacked your respiratory system, so it was like nose and throat. But it could spread really easily and mess with your nervous system. And so he was like, bed written and had to learn how to walk again and then, like, permanently had his left arm could never like fully extend again. And he, like one leg was a little shorter than the other. And then he was in an orphanage. And then he left when he was 13 and he became a hobo. And then he joined the Merchant Marines. But anyways, what a life. What is this gonna be? A podcast about your grandpa? Because about your grandpas life. Now that that portion shirt This is not the first time we've heard of Jin's grandfather on the podcast. I am almost certain of it. I feel like you put him up before and we've been like, Wow, he sounded being dying. Lived a life, you know? Yeah, literally that exactly. Yeah. Yes, yes. So, like, what hit my grandpappy there was diphtheria, but also in 19th century, there was typhus and cholera. And these things were just killing people of all ages and mass, like the average lifespan during the 19th century was 40 years old, which is wild to think about now the average that za middle aged, I know. And in particular dying at home was really common. So like there were hospitals. But it was nothing like what we think of today. That air, like very advanced and can house a lot of people in various stages of illness. So it was quite common for people to die in home. So households family members were experiencing death in their homes that like a regular rate and in a time where life felt so really like, fragile and ephemeral, memorializing someone's life was an act of respect and love, you know, because okay, especially if you're looking at, you know, like little kids who die like Okay, they're only alive for a few years and it was a big deal to memorialize Ah, family member who would pass because, you know otherwise, what was the fucking point? That's grim, but yeah, that's what I like before this portrait's in general were like they were for the elite because they're so expensive, you have to pay someone to paint a portrait. So just the idea of portrait photography in general is more accessible for the Everyman. Yes, exactly. And Queen Victoria's husband died of what doctors at the time diagnosed as typhoid fever and she straight up like he died many, many years before she did. And she never did not wear mourning clothes. She was always dressed in mourning. Yeah, I remember that from the movie from hell. Oh, Johnny Depp. I don't think I've seen that one. I had was into that. It's not that good, but, you know, he's been in a lot of really horrible movies. I watched the ninth gate recently, and it was Wow, sorry not to derail, but that was like in the movie. I just remember Queen Victoria always wore her mourning clothes. Yeah, she she loved that guy, man. Yeah, she did love him, which, you know, was refreshing for, um, I suppose, for an arranged royal marriage. So with her being like very much the picture of mourning, death in a kind of weird way was almost fashionable, Like the visual act of morning, like displaying the fact that you are mourning was perfectly acceptable. It was considered socially correct at that time. And because there was so much death going on during this period, people were comfortable with it, I suppose, or at least more visually comfortable with being very close to it physically than what we're used to now. And people were into, you know, like little tokens or relics from dead loved ones, like a lock of hair. You know, couple of teeth. Death masks were made of wax like cast a dead person's face. So, like, these Victorian era rituals of grieving were really common as a means of like, exercising one's grief and in a way, like I kind of came down with that because, yeah, I love it. Yeah. Super down. Yeah, honestly, I do that now with the hair and the teeth. Is that is that bad? Tell me more about you. Have a collection of beef. I'm just kidding. No, no, no, no, no, no. I got into 90 day fiance for a bit there a while. Oh, my God. Yeah, I fell down the rabbit hole. It's okay. Anyway, one of the guys went on thio Brazil, I believe. And I don't know, Of course. Yeah, he's going somewhere, but his mom gave him some of her hair. Take with him. He did it. And then I feel like he asked for his like, fiancee's hair, and it was just the whole thing that I was, like, hair thing. Okay? I don't know, because, like, his mom, like, offered it to him. She was, like, here. So, like, I don't know, man. It was a very the mother son thing. It was just layered. And this is reminding me of its fine. I think it's fine. There's just all over the entire house. So whether or not Sam wants to carry it on him, he does. Oh, my God. May or may not have locks of all of your hair s so I don't You know, we, uh, just pulls hair out of our brushes. No, I really I really like imagining, like, in one of our, you know, many art history babes, sleepovers. Like Jen getting up in the middle of the night and, like, sneakily snipping just like a little elf like s. Tell me around the room. Oh, man. Well, anyway, not sorry. I'm boy just really embodying the spirit of the creepy, but yes, yeah, yeah. No. And I mean, of course, a lot of it is creepy to us, or it seems that way. But I do think that when you look at the ways in which they were so physical and like sentimental and even intimate with death, I think is actually quite beautiful in a lot of ways. Definitely. Just kind of going off that exact wording. Creepy. There's a really great adventure time quote that I love just being a perfect big, big fan of adventure time. Hold on. I'm pulling it up. No, it's fine. I don't never apologize. Just don't ever apologize saying e thought it's hard. It's hard to get good at it. I'm pretty good at, Not e. I'm not say start constantly. Me too, for everything, man. I am sorry. That's the problem. Just perpetually sorry. Ah, lot of times I'm really not. And so I've gotten a lot better. Like, I am not sorry about this. I really respect that, Corey. I think that's bad ass. So I have this quote from adventure time by Finn. I say creepy is just another label we use to distance ourselves from stuff we don't understand. Mm. I love Finn. Yeah, well, so good. Uh, I'm gonna watch that. That's perfect for this example, too, because while of course, our society has death and illness and all that, but comparing it to like the 19th century, where people were dying at a lot higher rates compared to like the population density. So really like death was ever present during this period. So of course, they would have a different way of handling and responding to that than what we would do now. And, you know, we talked about this a lot. And there's this art historian. I always forget his first name, but his last name is back. Sandahl and he, like, coined this term called Period I, which is essentially like looking at cultures from the past and like projecting our own ideas of what is normal or acceptable or weird onto them, rather than trying to look at it from the perspective in which it was made. So I think you know, it's just another example of that, like tow us. You know, we look at Victorian things. It's like, creepy like weird, but that was their way of coping when people were dropping like damn flies. You know, s Oh, yeah. You know, another thing just throw in there is that our relationship with dead bodies has really changed over the last, like 100 years. Like the idea of taking a dead body to like a morgue is a relatively new idea, like you wouldn't have some intermediary dressing up the body to then bury it the way that we do now. Death industrial complex It's It's a real thing. It's a really thing. So death portraiture in just the simple act of creating an image of a deceased person is a very old practice, however, with the advent of the first publicly available form of photography, known as the daguerreotype in 18 39 photography of dead people, often called postmortem photography, got incredibly popular. So the did Garrow type is a detailed picture on polished silver. Soon, other forms of less expensive photography grew in popularity, including the Ambro type, which was on glass tintype on metal, and the car Today, this day, which was on paper. So by the 18 sixties, portrait photography was no longer something that was only accessible by the elite. It was pretty available to most people, regardless of economic status and long exposure. Photography meant subjects had to sit for like 1 to 2 minutes, typically when a photograph was being taken, and so you'll see, like some photos from this time of people who are alive, where they'll look a little blurry and a little out of focus. And interestingly, when you're looking at post mortem photography, when it will be, you know, like a mother posing with her dead child Or like two parents posing with their dead child, they'll look weirdly kind of more ghostly because they're they're like, a little transparent and blurry, whereas the dead figure looks like super crisp on like in really good resolution. Chris Body, right? That's Chris. That's a crisp, fresh, dead but nice clean on. And photographers would make house calls after someone died so that the deceased person could be, you know, dressed up nicely in their finery and set up and photographed in their homes. So a lot of these photos are of a deceased person on their bed or on the couch. And, you know, having these tangible items, like a photograph of your dead loved one that you could touch and hold and keep close to you was really powerful. I think in probably a lot of ways that acted almost is like a talisman or relic, and people would have these on display, like in their homes, like on the mantelpiece. Like yes, there is Elizabeth. She got cholera at age 19 or so. It was very much like a acceptable thing. And it was like a point of pride and a lot of ways. And like honoring the life of that family member who died. Yeah, I I just think these photos are really interesting studies into looking at 19th centuries societies, intimacy with death and like the rituals that they created surrounding it. But I think it's like, pretty cool. It's definitely cool. I mean, like, I think it's easy for us. Toe Look at this stuff, too, as like oh, that bad ass and like that's like, you know, metal cause it, like, has to a death. But it's also just really lovely Thio like it's I. I think there's something very gentle and lovely about this concept to be completely honest, but that that's not how a lot of people react. Yeah, it's just a bummer, because I feel like you miss out on so much cool understanding of things. If you don't use period. I like if you don't try to actively empathize with people in the past like you're just missing out on that whole. Agreed. It's so many parallels, and we'll get to a lot of them, but yeah, just intentionally overlook it, because your initial discomfort, it's like, don't do that to yourself. Yeah, and I'm looking at these photos that you picked here, Jenny, and they're actually I was gonna, you know, make a joke. But I'm actually feeling a little bit like a little choked up with the parents with their daughter in the middle one, like, really gets to me because it's what you're saying about the body being crisp, but the live people being blurry. But then also, the last one with the little boy gone to Jesus, I was like, Oh, no, no, I know, I know that's rough. But although the first photo here, your little note kid on the left is dead. They've never thought Jimmy just would have never even thought left is dead. It's a photo of five Children, four of them very much alive. One is Did you? You know, I kind of which screamed with the text for when we post this like, you know, rest in peace and all that but like, wow. Yeah, I'm gonna be a kid on the left. At one point, we don't mean any disrespect. No, of course they don't also rest in peace Toe Everyone in this photograph, like none of these people are alive, you know? So, like, yeah, there are long dead. It's true. None of us are disrespectful of the dead in any way. If anything, I think we're very celebratory of the dead eso If you read something we say is disrespectful, I promise you, that's not how it's intended in any way, e I also, I added a couple of photos I found as well in the next life. And I really love that. This is probably my favorite one I've seen of this man with his doe eyes, a dead man. He's the older man. No. Is it really bad that the first thing I thought when I saw this is like, that's gonna be Sam e feel like this is gonna be a lot of millennials. So, like, we have such love for our pets. Like, really, our pets are like our Children in a lot of ways, and it's really it's just it's a death portrait's I don't know how this gentleman died, but he's older, man and he's Yeah, he's propped up in a chair and his two dogs air sitting on his lap. I know. So kudos to the photographer who got these two dogs to sit there and act like normal, because I'm sorry, but your dog knows that you're dead. And those dogs AARP opposing. They're looking at the camera and they're being very good dogs, and I am emotional about it. It's reminiscent of like that that will lay on their owner's grave site and just lay there. I'm talking about this. We can't keep talking about this. My eyes were getting like like wet. But these air. These are a couple of very good boys. They're standing stoically for the photograph, and it's just, I was wondering. I was like, Who's I wonder who this photos for because, like his wife, Oh, yeah, maybe. Maybe just because that's another thing you kind of brought up Jenny, is that a lot of times what would happen is these photos were taken as as like a final family photo, which is why a lot of times you have the living people and and the dead as well. So it's It's just a way for the family to be together. Photo, right. So with, like, the individual ones, I I kind of wonder I'm like, Oh, I wonder, you know? Well, someone commissioned it for sure. You know, someone was like, Oh, I want to remember old Ed the way that he lived with his dogs. One of the dogs commissioned i e. I am getting pretty emotional about this. The second photo, Cory is beautiful, right? Also going back to what Jin was talking about. We have a portrait of Queen Victoria on her death bed. And in the portrait is the death portrait of her husband hanging above her so many layers. So meta layers on layers. Victoria, it's beautiful. I love this very much. Um, that was her cousin, by the way. I mean, you know, that's why a lot of people had hemophilia. Uh, g dang it, uh jeez. Also, just something to keep in mind, too. Is that with the process of this and death portraiture? Ah, lot of times, thes photographers had to kind of get creative because what people typically wanted in these photos was the illusion of life in the dead person. And so things like stands and wires and different means of propping these people up was often used as well. I mean, there are There are also plenty of death Portrait's that are like laying in bed, that kind of go the sleeping route, right? The eternal sleep, the eternal sleep. Exactly. But there's lots of them where Yeah, these dead people are being propped up as though just like the image above Where the kid on the London kid on the left kid on? Yeah, like when you guys see the picture, you'll judge us less. No, no, no. They're gonna Judge is really hard, and that's because we deserve it. But honestly, I mean, talk about probably underpaid profession, like I can't imagine that these folks were getting paid what they deserved. Did the plight of the artist man, um, putting strings and and, like, stands and stuff on a dead body. Oh, I wonder, though, I don't know, because I feel like a lot of times it was the family, which is why this is so. I mean, I'm sure there were people who, like we're professionals in all of that stuff, but I think a lot of the preparation was done by the family. I mean, 11 can No. I know that there were some people that were full time professionals. I don't think I have it on my notes, but I read, like, quotes by Victorian error photographers that that that was what they did. Yeah, the photographer is definitely, but I mean the handling of the body. I guess I was reading a lot like fell on the family. I guess that's what I meant is I read you from the photographer about the act of making the body look alive. So yeah, I'm sure there are, you know, and there's there's such variation thio. Sure, there are plenty instances where the family did it, but I do know that there are also instances where the photographer fully in charge of that I had also read. I'll have to go back and find where I saw it because I didn't put it in our sources notes. But I also read somewhere that a lot of these photographers during this time were women, and that was like okay for them to do without chaperones and shit and that. You know, a lot of them would just put their artist names like their initial. So you didn't necessarily know that they were women. But I wonder if, like, part of that was something about because they were going into family homes that that was deemed more like genteel or like socially acceptable for women. Thio go into, like, a family home and photograph like a dead four year old. Yeah, I didn't read anything on that. But if that's true, I'll find it so badass that it was, I think, Yeah. Ah. Woman dominated field. I'll find it. And if I can't find it, we'll delete this whole thing. But I just said no. That that makes sense, though, like I feel like that mimics ah, lot of stuff that I'm going to cover at the end of the episode. Yeah, female professions, man. Yeah, and just the idea of its, you know, sacred feminine kind of is in charge of the transition periods of life. You know, birth and death. People feel a lot more comfortable with women in a lot of these really momentous occasions. The different phases of life birth, death, illness. Think about it think about it. Yeah, think about it while we take a quick break. Nice transition. Wow. Thanks. Profession. Hey, everyone. I'm Cory, as you know, because I am also the host of the podcast that you're listening Thio at the moment. And I'm Brian, which she'll remember me from the spooky corner Siri's that we did. I have been tucked away under the cupboard all this time and