Day of the Dead

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 6.5 x 4.25 inches.

What I know about it:

Nothing!  Undated and unidentified.


Feliz Día de los Muertos!  On my Day of the Dead  post from last year, I presented what I think are the only two post-mortem photos I have.  So this year, for your consideration, I am offering the one above.  It may just be a family of four posing with one of its prized possessions, a painting of the child standing next to it.  But I’ve always suspected it shows what was once a family of five, using a painting of a departed member as a stand-in.  It was not unheard of for post-mortem photos to be taken showing the living posing with the deceased, but perhaps in this case the painting is filling in for a child who was, by that point, unavailable or unpresentable.  Whatever the case, it’s an interesting image, including a rare glimpse into an actual home (or an unusually realistic studio set).  And, of course, these people would all be dead by now anyway, so we can choose to consider them and wish their spirits well today if we choose.

8 comments on “Day of the Dead”

  1. Hi Matt
    It is extremely moving to think of it as a portrait of a family of five. It is so easy to forget how often children died back then. The interior details are interesting. I can clearly see the guitar but is it a lute neck opposite it? I wonder what the thing behind the lady’s head is? Even on the enlarged version of the photo I cannot figure it out.

    • Thanks, Katherine, I find it moving, too. Actually, I find it oddly moving whether it’s a family of four or five. Yes, I think that’s some sort of musical instrument besides the guitar, though I can’t quite identify it. And the object on the wall behind the woman is a mystery to me, too.

  2. This picture is sort of haunting in the way it seems to capture the grief of losing a loved one, especially one so young. I don’t think it was common to paint portraits of young children which adds to the sadness of this.

    • I agree, it looks so sad. While it’s common to have unsmiling faces in such old pictures, these ones seem especially sorrowful, and even the lighting looks spooky. Such factors may be influencing my feeling that it represents a portrait of grief, but I’m still inclined to feel that way. Good question about the painting, I don’t really know how common such things were. I’ve been wondering, assuming the painting represents a dead child, whether the painting itself was painted from life or posthumously.

  3. The blank looks in this one puts it just a tad on the creepy side, methinks…

    Nice ongoing effort here. 😉

  4. My money is on portrait of the dead child.

    Mom’s face seems particularly pained, don’t you think? Glad for two, missing one?

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