• “Spectacle, Maintenance and Materiality: Women and Death in Modern Brittany”

    Maura Coughlin (see profile)
    Material culture, Death, Art, Nineteenth century, Women
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Breton, folklore, burial, mourning, Nineteenth-century art, Materiality of art
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    Both remarkable and everyday, women’s ritual maintenance of the memory of the dead was often the subject of paintings, sculpture, photography and popular illustration produced in late 19th and early 20th century Brittany. Breton popular beliefs put the dead and living in close proximity and this was expressed in a range of visual culture that clustered around the holiday of Toussaint (All Soul’s Day and Day of the Dead). Why was the spectacle of women in the cemetery, praying upon the grave or laying wreaths upon it, so compelling for visitors to Brittany? This paper examines the visual and material culture of death rituals in Brittany (and their representations), including the seemingly anachronistic practice of reburial of the body, several years after its interment, the ritual function of the ossuary in the churchyard, the display of individual skull boxes in the church and ossuary, and the hybrid Celtic-Christian culture of death lore in Brittany. While examining a range of artistic topographies written onto the Breton landscape, this essay also maps out an ecology of place, as local politics of cemetery placement in rural Breton life came into conflict with official pressures to modernize and sanitize public space. With the great losses suffered in Brittany from the World Wars, cemeteries, memorials that featured mourning widows, and images of women’s mourning and memory rituals take on entirely new meanings in French visual culture.
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    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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