What is the message of the painting The Nightmare?

The Nightmare is a 1781 oil painting by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli. It shows a woman in deep sleep with her arms thrown below her, and with a demonic and apelike incubus crouched on her chest. The painting’s dreamlike and haunting erotic evocation of infatuation and obsession was a huge popular success.

What inspired the nightmare painting?

Some art critics believe that the painting was inspired by Germanic legends about demons who possessed people as they slept. In these tales, men were visited by horses or witches, while women were believed on occasion to have sex with the devil.

What was the painting called The Nightmare based on?

The work was likely inspired by the waking dreams experienced by Fuseli and his contemporaries, who found that these experiences related to folkloric beliefs like the Germanic tales about demons and witches that possessed people who slept alone.

What does the horse represent in the nightmare painting?

Although it is tempting to understand the painting’s title as a punning reference to the horse, the word “nightmare” does not refer to horses. Rather, in the now obsolete definition of the term, a mare is an evil spirit that tortures humans while they sleep.

What did the Nightmare by Henry Fuseli inspire?

Fuseli later painted at least three more variations with the same title and subject. The Nightmare became an icon of Romanticism and a defining image of Gothic horror, inspiring the poet Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) and the writers Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe among many others.


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