Objects of Immortality: Hairwork and Mourning in Victorian Visual Culture

Rachel Harmeyer

Abstract


Often misunderstood as purely an artifact of mourning, hairwork was exchanged as a living, sentimental token of love and friendship in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hair was an artifact of affection and a material for memory, and was often made into hairwork objects and jewelry. This function of hairwork can be understood in the context of the visual culture of death and dying in the nineteenth century, which equated beauty with immortality. This paper will show that sentimental hairwork was inextricably linked to portraiture, even when it was not tied to the miniature portrait. For those who created it, hairwork had the capacity to reconstruct the body into an ideal form that could live beyond death.

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