Max Klinger stands as one of the iconic examples of the Symbolist movement; best known for his series Paraphrases about the Finding of a Glove, his etchings present realistically impossible scenes from some kind of dream world just beyond reach and just outside complete comprehension. The Dead Mother serves as a fine example of a scene too strange to be literal while still occupying a definite physical space: The infant crouches on his mother's breast, the arch and its irregular, misshapen columns behind the pair and behind them two trees stand lit before a darkened forest.

The work's composition focuses on the infant, poised over his mother in the manner of an incubus or an alp, the life crushed from her, vacantly staring at the viewer and lacking comprehension of his crime. The lit trees transparently represent the mother and child, the one a sapling, the other fully-grown, each bound to its associated character at their waist, suggesting a strange outlook on fertility and birth in line with that already presented by the human subjects and the title.

Questions

Does Klinger's symbolism provide meaninful commentary on birth, death, and the progress of generations, or is he just monkeying about with symbols as a way of making his viewers uncomfortable?

The Incubus is a non-classical myth previously used by painters (notably Fuseli) that Klinger has appropriated for his etchings, though here he copies the style of the creature rather than its form. How does this use differ from other painters' use of classical myths such as the Sphinx?

What about Klinger's view of women, in The Dead Mother and in Finding of a Glove differs from that of other Symbolists?

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Last modified 1 May 2007