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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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10 Visual Representations of Child Death: Artwork and Photographs

Representation of Children in Art



Visual Representations of Child Death

Artwork and Photographs

Visual representations of deceased children served a purpose far beyond that of recording an image. They often also reflected societies’, and more specifically parents’, attitudes toward death. Additionally, the function of these works was also to console or facilitate the grieving process.1 Ever since early Modern history, artists had painted pictures of dead children laid out for their funerals. The evidence left to us through photographs, paintings, and cemetery monuments provides a romanticized perspective of child death. For example, the Victorian practice of having a posthumous portrait of a dead child painted to represent a living child, while displaying it with photographs of the child’s corpse, illustrates the complex dynamic of acceptance and denial within Victorian society.2

Van Setten observes that in the Netherlands, and possibly in the Western world in general, early nineteenth century people started to give more attention to the consolation of grieving parents. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries few traces of guilt could be found in Dutch expressions of grief. This is unusual because most grieving parents express regret at what they could have done (e.g., sought medical help, baptized an infant so that he would not linger forever in purgatory). Therefore, the shift to artistic representations of dead children and their grieving parents in the nineteenth century is significant.3 Van Setten also ← 123 | 124 → observes that there was an abundance of consolatory literature, particularly in...

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