Louise Bourgeois – Spider

The motif of spiders was more than just an eight-legged arachnid capable of feats of incredible strength given its size.

To Louise Bourgeois, the spider was a symbol of her mother, a powerful, strong, caretaker as ready to protect as to weave a web of support for her daughter.

. To Louise Bourgeois, the spider was a symbol of her mother, a powerful, strong, caretaker as ready to protect as to weave a web of support for her daughter.

Maman (1999)

The image of the spider as a positive influence first appeared in the work of Louis Bourgeois in the 1940s. Bourgois saw the spider as a sort of guardian figure, as powerful as it was mistaken by society.

That power is demonstrated in the massive size of the Maman, crafter from bronze, marble, and stainless steel. More than 30 feet high, Maman towers over all who approach it, filling viewers with a sense of proportion capable of dwarfing the strongest person and making them feel weak, yet secure.

While this sculpture bears the universal image of the spider, occupying the form of the sculpture, the essence is much more deeply personal than that, probing into the psychology of the collective unconscious.

If you wish to see this enormous sculpture on display, head to the Long Museum in Shanghai China. The Maman was moved there in 2018 and remains as of 2019.

A Mother’s Love

Louis Bourgeois was strikingly close to her mother, in part because of the terrifying childhood she had and the protection afforded to her by her mother. Bourgeois was born in Paris, France, in 1911, and would have first been forming memories when the Germans began to invade in 1914.

The German military poured over the borders into France in the end of 1914 and waged countless bloody battles over the years that followed. 

Casualties were so severe and destruction was so widespread in France that a single battle, the Battle of Verdun, resulted in more than 162,000 deaths and another 118,000 living casualties. Bourgeois was certain to have endured this destruction and seen the suffering of the war firsthand.

A Standalone Piece

Louise Bourgeois’s Maman is not part of any particular collection, at least it wasn’t intended to be. Maman was designed simply as an overtly ambitious attempt to create a massive portrayal of the spider, the theme that permeated all of Bourgeois’s works.

More Spider-Influenced Designs

Bourgeois produced more than a dozen famous works, many of which incorporated the motif of the spider into their structures or imagery.

One of Bourgeois’s pieces that details the pain and suffering imprinted on her by being raised in a war and surrounded by death and destruction from an early age is The Destruction of the Father, created in 1974.

In this piece, Bourgeois not only created a cave-like / womb-like surface scattered with objects and designs that resembled severed body parts, but she also incorporated real hunks of lamb into the sculpture to further highlight the violence and gore of the piece.

Conclusion

From a violent upbringing to her death in the security of New York City, Louise Bourgeois lived a varied and diverse life. As a child essentially born into war, she was protected by her mother for years.

As she matured and her mother was no longer with her, she lived through countless more wars, never forgetting the image of her mother as a protective spider watching over her.