What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a painting? Some of you might imagine green, rolling hills with blue skies. Others might picture a beautiful nude portrait or a modernist design. However, art is not always that easy to digest. There are numerous challenging concepts which present ideas in a totally unique (and sometimes scary) way. Some paintings are downright scary, and they are probably the last things that people want to hang over their couch. This doesn’t mean that they are not worth examining. Let’s take a look at 5 unsettling paintings made by great artists.
5. Dante and Virgil in Hell
William- Adolphe Bouguereau
Since its publication, Dante’s inferno has inspired countless of artists who tried to reproduce that world in their own vision. But while some war eerie and filled with classical tranquility, William Adolphe Bouguereau moves from this style and re-creates the pits of hell where demons and impersonators engage in relentless battles and steal each-others identities by biting. A demon gloats as Virgil and Dante watch the damned struggle.
‘In a frenzy, like pigs escaped from their sties, Snapping wildly at everything in sight. One of them fastened his teeth like a vise.’
4. The Temptation of St. Anthony
Our next contender on the unsettling paintings list is ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony’ by Matthias Grunewald. This artist enjoyed painting religious imagery in the style of the middle ages (he lived during the renaissance). This particular painting caught our attention. According to the stories, St. Anthony the Great faced many trials of faith (including living in the desert). The legend says that he was killed by a demon living in a cave, but he was soon revived and destroyed the evil. This image is taken from the Isenheim Triptych a three image masterpiece which depicts how St. Anthony succumbs to the attack of demons.
3. Saturn Devouring His Son
Francisco Goya is one of the most well-known and appreciated painters of all time. You are probably already familiar with the Roman myth (based heavily on a Greek myth), according to which Saturn, the father of Gods, eats his own children to prevent them from becoming stronger than himself. ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’ is a painting that should have never been revealed (it was pained on the walls of the artist’s house and it is part of the Black Paintings series). The most famous work of the series is definitely the Witches’ Sabbath.
2. Heads Severed
Theodore Gericault is well known for his work, ‘The Raft of Medusa’, a large romantic canvas where the artist manages to express his style. Like other artists on the list, Gericault also struggled to break from the standard painting style of that age. He enjoyed romanticism, which tackled emotional subjects. At one point he began to study limbs and severed heads from dissection labs and morgues. The painting above may look troubling, but it is common knowledge that painters also study the dead before they can paint the living.
1. The Garden of Earthly Delights
The work of Hieronymus Bosch is the cherry on top of our unsettling paintings ‘cake’. This painter was linked to several disquieting and fantastic religious paintings in his career. The epitome of his work is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych that unfolds on three panels: one with the Garden of Eden (and the creation of mankind) , One with The Garden of Earthly Delights, and one with the Punishments for the sins we do in the earthly garden. Leaving aside the terrors presented and the unimaginable torment present on the last panel, this masterpiece perfectly describes Bosch’s talent for details, and inclination towards symbolism. This paint is scary and morbidly fascinating at the same time.
What do you think of these paintings? We would love to hear your thoughts.