Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Victorian Tattoos - Taboo?

I have been researching tattoos from the 19th century. The stigma of tattoos being rebel and delinquent was quite popular in my grandmother's era, but what in her mother's era? Were they always viewed as marks of a brawling sailor, drunken behemoth, or back alley murderer? The tattoo wasn't an unknown topic, considering the stories of inked heathens and ancestral inkage dating back into the Egyptian years. BUT! In the 19th Century was the tattoo a symbol of artistry ... was it actually ... cool?

Strange the things you uncover on the Internet. Apparently in 1862, a celebrity began the tattoo "cool" faze of the 19th Century when Edward the VII returned home from Jerusalem with a Holy Cross tattoo and his sons joined the ranks of tattooing in later years. In 1882 George V was marked by a dragon tattoo on his arm after a visit to Japan.

Between 1870-1890 tattooing wasn't just for the brawlers but for young women--intricate designs marked on their legs--and for men of upper social class. Charles Darwin on his journeys, concluded that not a nation has been left untouched by the art of tattooing. The art. Curious.

While religious factions referred to passages in the Old Testament where tattoos were joined in union with heathenism, some of the leading heads of society also frowned on the occasion. But, from the prostitute to Winston Churchill's mother, even women embellished their bodies with ink. Of course, on the upper class elite, they weren't typically sported in brazen display. Creatively inked to be hidden beneath jewelry or other clothing, even men of society maintained an un-inked public display. This lends toward the popular belief that it was unpopular and rather scandalous to be tattooed if you weren't engaged in shady practices or uncouth careers.

So, I believe it's safe to say that while the explosion of tattoos as a form of body art makes its very public appearance in the 20th and 21st centuries, the 19th century was most definitely setting the stage for this explosion of self expression. I find it intriguing that even then, people dabbled with the rebellious side ;) even while hiding it beneath their petticoats and dinner coats.

I'm still waiting to see a character on Downton Abbey appear with a tattoo, for I must admit, if I appeared with a tattoo, my mother would skin me alive! ;)

11 comments:

  1. An interesting post! You certainly see more and more tattoos today. I often wonder if, in time, those that have them wish they did not!

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    1. From what I found, there didn't seem to be regret. Although the upper class kept them discreet ;)

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  2. Thanks for this interesting post about tattoos. I have never had the desire to get one, but you see more and more of them now. Thanks for sharing!
    tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

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  3. Great post! I wonder what these tattoos looked like back then? Did they have any color? Were they of their children's names? Or spouse's names? Flowers? I used to work in a tattoo shop and have 11 and the beginning of a "sleeve" so this really interesting to me! Looks like I have something to do a little research on!

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    1. Well, Prince Nicholas supposedly got a dragon tattoo...have fun researching! :)

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  4. I have always been skeptical about tattoos, but these days they seem to be everywhere and when I ask they tell me it is art. Thanks for the post. sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. there's definitely differing opinions. I agree.

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  5. I have always been skeptical about tattoos, but these days they seem to be everywhere and when I ask they tell me it is art. Thanks for the post. sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  6. Interesting post, Jaime! Surprised to hear that women had tattoos in the 1800's.

    I've never had a desire for one, & don't care for them on others - even though my children have some. I'm wondering just how painful it is for those people who have names tattooed - which they later have removed.

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    1. I'm too chicken to get one. Needles ... EEEESH!

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