Wicked Art Wednesdays: Art History’s Scariest Paintings

Art History is filled with a number of terrifying paintings. Some are bibilical stories and greek or roman myths, others are disturbing images meant to represent abstract ideals, and some are pretty straight-forward. The things we fear, have always been feared, and all human beings share in those feelings. Here’s my picks for the top ten scariest art paintings in history.

10.

Odilon Redon, “The Smiling Spider,” 1887

Why is this spider smiling? It’s ultra creepy. Spiders are creepy enough on their own without a smile. Now, I’m just suspicious. What did this spider do?

9.

John Singleton Copley,”Watson and the Shark,” 1778 

It might just be me but this is hella scary. That person in the water is toast and that shark is about as big as the boat! We can easily imagine it overturning and all-you-can-eat buffet happening in the next scene. It’s almost comforting knowing our forefathers held similar fears of the great white sharks, like, our reasoning is kinda justified. We might have bigger boats and better guns, but sharks have always been incredible evolutionary killing machines, who haven’t really changed much over the years. Getting caught in shark infested waters is one of the scariest things on earth.

8.

Zdzislaw Beksinski, “Untitled,” 1984

This is one of those paintings that is both beautiful and scary. Til death to they part. We see the lovers embraced, dying together, decaying together. This is true love. It’s frightening to realize how intertwined death and love are. Most of Beksinski’s art seems to be bizzare tributes to love, death destruction or war. When you learn of Beksinski’s own tragic life, paintings like this become even more bittersweet.

7.

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights, Third Panel” c. 1500-1505 

Not as scary as his Hell paintings, but don’t we expect Hell to be scary? This is the Garden of Earthly Delights, and this is creepy AF! What’s up with all the Keebler elves sewing together human parts? Is that a witch, overseeing the work, casting a spell or a representative of the mind? Are they making a woman? I have so many questions, so many, and no one has answers.

6.

Titian, “Flaying of Marsyas,” c. 1570-1576

The satyr Marsyas supposedly lost a musical contest with the god Apollo and is now being skinned alive while a host of Greek figures help out or look on. Brings new meaning to the term ‘winner take all.’ There’s a whole lot of symbolism and deeper meaning going on here and you’re all gonna have to Google that for yourselves. At face value, this is one of the most savage paintings in the world.

5.

Theodore Gericault, Severed Heads, Preparatory Paintings for the “Raft of the Medusa” 1819

These next two paintings are a bit of twofer. See below.

4.

Theodore Gericault, Preparatory Paintings for the “Raft of the Medusa” 1819

Taken out of the context, these are two of a half dozen creepy and gory preparatory paintings. Basically, these bizarre and scary pieces were practice for an even bigger masterpiece, the “Raft of the Medusa,” which is a pretty brutal painting, filled with death and chaos, depicting the scandalous aftermath of the wreck of the Frigate Meduse in 1816. Survivors were set adrift for 13 days, and endured dehydration, starvation and cannibalism. Believe it or not, this fascinating true story of events totally eclipse this incredible eerie painting and all its the gory preparatory work.

3.

Peter Paul Rubens, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” 1636

According to Greek Myth, the Oracles foretold that a child of Titan Cronus (Romanized to Saturn) would some day overthrow the ruler, just as he had supplanted his own father. So, the Father of the Year ate his first two children, forcing wife Ops to hide the third Jupiter, where he was successfully whisked away and hidden on the isle of Crete, only to return years later to fulfill the prophecy. Man, hate to have Thanksgiving at their house.

2.

Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” c. 1819-1823

This is is Goya’s version of the same story, with a gorier depiction, the child’s head and arm have already been devoured. Art critics have explained that the painting may have a deeper personal meaning to Goya, as only one of his six children survived. It could serve as a religious allegory to the wrath of God or represent the political situation of Spain at the time, a frequently visited subject by Goya.

1.

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare,” 1781

Both scary and erotic, the painting depicts a woman in a dreamlike state with demonic entity, possibly an incubus, sitting on her chest and a horse looking on in the background. This frightful painting has been a huge success since its exhibition and copied and parodied numerous times throughout the years, including Thomas Burke’s equally famous engraving The Nightmare. In fact, it was so popular at the time, Fuseli even repainted different versions of it. Oddly enough, he never really explained what it was about! Naturally, interpretations vary, but some critics have offered suggestions that the painting represents repressed sexuality, general lust and women’s desire, political allegories, religious allegories, devil worship and witchcraft, real nighmares, sleep deprivation and sleep paralysis. I mean, the list goes on as testament to its versatility.

This is the image I think of when someone mentions sleep disorders, particularly sleep paralysis. I, myself, have had a few instances of waking up before the rest of my body does and having the feeling of a being sitting on my chest. It’s the most terrifying memory I have. There’s zero comfort in knowing how common an occurrence this is between people either.

Like I’ve said before, our fears are the same and have been the same throughout the ages. What famous paintings scare you?

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