Death Portrait of a Child
The daguerreotype—the first commercially viable form of photography—was publicly announced in 1839 and quickly democratized portraiture, which previously had been accessible only to those who could hire a painter. Now it was possible for nearly anyone to obtain a likeness of himself or a loved one.
Daguerreotypes were often small and, because of their delicate mirrored surfaces, were housed in elegant cases so they could be held easily. The experience of viewing a cherished image was thus intimate and as much physical as it was visual. Child mortality rates were high in the nineteenth century, and it was common practice, as seen here, to photograph a child soon after death so that she appeared to be at peace.