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  • Writer's pictureCassandra Munoz

18 Creepy Paintings That Will Stir The Imagination

On Twitter recently I came across the @culturaltutor thread on the 16 of the creepiest paintings ever made. The comments brought up a list of their own and a few looked familiar. Here's my list of paintings that are creepy, alarming, petrifying and a little disturbing.

The Flaying of Marsyas by Titian (1570)

The Flaying of Marsyas is a painting by the Italian late Renaissance artist Titian, probably painted between about 1570 and his death in 1576, when in his eighties. It is now in the Archbishop's Palace in Kroměříž, Czech Republic and belongs to the Archbishopric of Olomouc (Wikipedia)

The Head of Medusa (1618)

Medusa is a c.1618 painting by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, showing the severed head of Medusa. The snakes in the painting have been attributed to Frans Snyders. It is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Dead Lovers by an unknown German artist (c.1470)

The Dead Lovers, also known as The Rotting Pair, is a circa 1470 painting by a German Gothic artist

Witching Hour by Andrew Wyeth 1977

Andrew Wyeth art shows people in some of their most emotional times and places.

Saturn Devouring His Son by Peter Paul Rubens (1636)

Saturn (or Saturn Devouring His Son) is a 1636 painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Resides in the Museo del Prado, in Madrid. It was commissioned for the Torre de la Parada by Philip IV of Spain and shows the influence of Michelangelo on Rubens, which he had picked up on his journey to Italy.

The Ghost of Oiwa by Hokusai (1830)

The ghost of Oiwa with a paper lantern head, her face disfigured after being poisoned by her husband. From the series Hyaku monogatari (100 Ghost Tales). In Japanese mythology, onryō is an “offended and vengeful spirit”, the restless soul of a person whose goal is to punish the offender who insulted it during its lifetime.

The Drowned Man's Ghost Tries to Claim a New Victim for the Sea by Thorvald Niss (c.1880)

Painter: Thorvald Niss. Resides in Skagens Museum

Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas by Otto Dix (1924)

Stormtroopers Advance Under a Gas Attack is an engraving in aquatint by Otto Dix representing German soldiers in combat during the First World War.

The Nightmare by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1781)

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 ape-like incubus crouched on her chest. The painting's dreamlike and haunting erotic evocation of infatuation and obsession was a huge popular success.

Decollazione di San Giovanni Battista | The Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio (1608)

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist is an oil painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio. It depicts the execution of John the Baptist. It is located in the Oratory of St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta. The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio stands out from all preceding depictions of the scene in the history of art. It pauses on a strikingly specific moment; one in which John’s head is not fully severed from his body.

Angel Leading a Soul into Hell by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch (c.1500)

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914 by Giorgio De Chirico

Created in 1914 by Giorgio de Chirico in Metaphysical art style. The painting one of Giorgio de Chirico’s unmatched images of deserted public spaces rendered in simple geometric forms. The painting represents an encounter between two figures: a small girl running with a hoop and a statue that is present in the painting only through its shadow. The girl is moving towards the source of bright light coming from behind the building on the right and illuminating intensively the arcades on the left. The bright yellow corridor stretched up to the horizon separates two zones: light and darkness.

AA72 by Beksinski

Zdzisław Beksiński was a Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor, specializing in the field of dystopian surrealism. AA72 shows the mysterious, dark valley, which resembles the biblical valley from the Psalm. On the bottom of the valley there's a small human figure, overshadowed by two rows of ponderous, stony monks, with skulls instead of heads.

La Campana de Huesca (1880) by José Casado del Alisal

The Bell of Huesca is a legend describing how Ramiro II of Aragon, the Monk, cut off the heads of twelve nobles who did not obey him. The legend is told in the 13th-century anonymous Aragonese work the Cantar de la campana de Huesca.

Here are 4 paintings I saw at the Philadelphia Museum in 2022 that would fit in this list nicely.

The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster (Dutch, 1609-1660; Around 1639)

A ghoulish skeleton looms behind two men drinking and carrying on. Reminders of death were common themes in paintings during the 1600s. But this work hasn't always looked this way. At some point, perhaps in the 1800s, a prior owner of the picture painted over the skeleton and replaced it with a table (see image below, at left). In the 1980s the museum's curators learned that an early copy of the painting, probably made shortly after the original, showed the skeleton we see here (see below, at right). After conducting tests that confirmed that the museum's painting had been changed, conservators removed the paint over the skeleton and revealed the original scene. The painting's attribution has also changed over time. Before the late 1800s, most of Lester's compositions, including this one, were misattributed to male artists. But experts later identified Lester's signature monogram - her initials with a star (Leyster is Dutch for lodestar or guiding star) - on her works. Here it is barely visible on the upside-down beer stein.

The Abduction of Europa by Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1727)

(Oil on canvas) According to the story told in Ovid's Metamorphoses, the god Jupiter, smitten with the nymph Europa, transformed himself into a white bull and abducted her. Here Jupiter swims away with Europa on his back, attended by a host of sea deities. Celebrated since it was entered in a royal painting competition in 1727, this picture has been in Philadelphia since 1815. It belonged to Joseph Bonaparte, who lived here in exile following the fall of his brother, the emperor Napoleon.

Carnival Evening by Henri Rousseau (1886)

An air of mystery pervades this wintry forest landscape. Dressed in festive carnival costumes, a couple stands in front of barren trees, their figures seeming to shine from within rather than from the light of the moon, which has left the forest in darkness. An unexplained face peers out from the empty hut beside the figures, and an unexpected streetlamp glows strangely nearby. Known for his fantastic scenes, Rousseau was a self-taught artist whose works appealed to adventurous collectors and artists like Pablo Picasso. The Louis E. Stem Collection, 1963-181-64

And lastly....

Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens (1611-1612)

(Oil on canvas) As punishment for stealing fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock and every day sent an eagle to attack him and devour his liver. As an immortal Titan, Prometheus could not die so he suffered this torture daily. Rubens conveys the utter horror of his subject by picturing the eagle digging its talons into Prometheus's flesh and ripping the liver from his abdomen. The torch at the bottom of the scene suggests that Prometheus endured this horrendous punishment for giving fire, and perhaps the creative spark, to humanity. Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, W1950-3-1

I hope you enjoyed learning about these creepy, beautiful and incredible works of art.

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