Smiling In A Portrait In The Olden Days Meant You Were A Drunken Slut

Don't Say Cheese
Why People Didn't Smile In Photos

You might have noticed that rarely anyone is smiling in old-timey photographs and paintings. I’ve always chalked it up to the fact that there was no running water back then. I’d look pretty dour too if I had to bathe in a bucket. Well, it turns out that, up until the 20th century, smiling in a portrait was only for those meant to be frowned upon. According to Nicholas Jeeves of the Public Domain, portraiture was meant to capture a “moral  certainty” rather than a moment:

“By the 17th century in Europe, it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment.”

In one of his letters, Mark Twain echoed Jeeves’ sentiment:

“A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

If only the people posting selfies on Facebook and Instragram still abided by these rules. [The Atlantic]

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