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Reading: The Dead Mother, the Uncanny, and the Holy Ghost


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The Dead Mother, the Uncanny, and the Holy Ghost


Gal Ventura

About Gal

Gal Ventura is a senior lecturer at the History of Art department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She is an art historian, and deals mainly with 19th century art, the history of the family, maternity, breastfeeding, death and Christian iconography in modern and contemporary art. Her book, dealing with representations of breastfeeding in 19th century French art, entitled Crying over Spilt Milk: Maternal Breast-feeding and Its Substitutes in Nineteenth Century French Art was published in The Hebrew University, Magnes Press (2013).

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Recurrent portrayals of dead mothers frequently appeared in French art from 1800 to 1850. This essay focuses on one of the latest manifestations of this image, namely, the French Realist Jules Breton's (1827-1906) painting The Hunger of 1850, in order to examine the psycho-historical elements associated with the mother's death. Through an analysis of the "Uncanny" as formulated by both Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud, we will address the undissolvable link between the structuralization of "homeliness" in the late eighteenth century and the dread it evoked in the early nineteenth century, as two sides of the same coin. We will simultaneously consider the inherent conflictuality embodied by the dead mother according to the French psychoanalyst André Green, who dealt with the experience of "nothingness" that characterizes children of mothers-who-refuse-to-die.

How to Cite: Ventura, G., 2015. The Dead Mother, the Uncanny, and the Holy Ghost. Studies in the Maternal, 7(1), pp.1–37. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2015.
Peer Reviewed


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