Collaborative piece written by:

artmejournalist Jad Dahshan (painting and drawing selection)

Editor in Chief Sama Shahrouri (sculpture selection)

Beware, dear reader, of the horrific listicle ahead. From visions of vengeance most vile to reverent reminders of the rot and decay of flesh, we present to you a selection of artworks both sculptural and 2-dimensional on the occasion of this Halloween. Read on, if you dare, to learn about the horrors which have inspired artists throughout history and all over the world. Whether it’s the bloodthirsty ghost of an ex-lover or the ever-looming menace of cannibalism, there is likely to be something on this list to send chills up your spine, so tread carefully, and happy Halloween!

Figure with Meat by Francis Bacon:

Figure with Meat, Francis Bacon, Oil on Canvas, 129.9 cm × 121.9 cm, 1954, Chicago.

Hailed as a 20th pioneer painter, Francis Bacon’s oeuvre could easily have dominated most of this list, comprising petrifyingly unrestrained and dismal depictions of the human condition. The 1950’s saw Bacon draw inspiration from baroque painter Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Bacon takes Velazquez’s elegant, authoritative, and dignified head of the church and releases dark, chaotic energies from within the canvas, borrowing from the grueling imagery of Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox to add an extra dimension of anguish and gore to his artwork.

Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Diego Velazquez, Oil on Canvas, 141 cm × 119 cm, 1650, Rome. and Slaughtered Ox, Rembrandt van Rijn, Oil on Panel. 95.5 x 68.8 cm, 1655, Paris.

Cloaks of Conscience by Anna Chromy:

Anna Chromy, Cloaks of Conscience (in progress), Marble, 430x280x380cm, 2006-2011, Salzburg and Prague.

Recalling the sculptures of Bernini, Chromy’s Cloaks of Conscience are made from the purest white Carrara marble. At first glance, the sculptures seem eerie in their nature due to the invisibility of their occupying figures. But in reality, the cloaks hold a significant and humbling aura in their forms. After gifting Pope John Paul II a small bronze copy of the cloak, Chromy was commissioned to recreate it at a larger than life-sized scale where people could enter the isolation of the cloaks for prayers. The chosen piece of marble was found after months of searching on Christmas eve of 2005. The cloaks act as metaphors for the human body, inside which one finds their deepest self.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli:

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, Oil on Canvas, 101.6 × 127 cm, 1781, Detroit.

From sleep paralysis and shortness of breath to demonic possession and suffocation by spirits, the dangers of dreams and sleep have long fascinated the mythological imagination. Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare is notorious for illustrating these fears, presenting, in stark chiaroscuro, the image of a woman fallen victim to an incubus in her sleep. Fuseli drew upon his broad art historical and folkloric knowledge in painting The Nightmare, which became so popular that it was painted several additional times by both himself as well as other artists.

Other renditions of The Nightmare by Fuseli and an unknown artist (details in captions)

The Kiss of Death by Unknown Artist:

Unknown Artist (Thought to be Jaime Barba or Joan Fontbernat) The Kiss of Death, Marble, 1930, Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona.

Petrifying to look at, multiple reasons spawn fear in the hearts of its viewers including the fact that this sculpture stands on the grave of an unknown fallen soldier and was created by an unknown artist. It is considered one of the main ‘attractions’ of the Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona. The sculpture depicts the euphoric submission of a handsome young man to the kiss of the angel of Death. The sculpture is credited to artists Jaume Barba or Joan Fontbernat, but it is still unknown who the original artist is.

One Hundred Ghost Tales by Katsuchika Hokusai:

The Ghost of Kohada Koheiji, Katsuchika Hokusai, Woodblock Print on Paper, 26.1 x 18.6 cm, circa 1833, London

Although mostly known for his iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai also contributed to a rich Japanese cultural history of ghost stories, known as kaidan. The above illustration pertains to the tale of Kohada Koheiji: eyes bloodshot with revenge, he returns from the dead to haunt his wife and her lover after they drown him in a swamp. The print is part of One Hundred Ghost Tales, a series of prints visualizing terrifying accounts of the ghoulish, ghostly, and gruesome.  

The ghost of Oiwa, deformed after her husband poisoned her, comes back to haunt him in a form of a lantern. 
The ghost of Buddhist monk Seigen creeps on his love Princess Sukara as she sleeps.

Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux:

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Ugolino and His Sons, Marble, 197.5×149.9×110.5cm, 1865-67 (wiki.org)

In this work, Carpeaux portrays the story of Ugolino from Dante’s Divine Comedy, where the Pisan count was imprisoned in a tower with four of his children and grandchildren and eventually died of hunger. This particular sculpture depicts the exact moment when Ugolino considers cannibalism at the suggestion of his son.

When a small ray was sent into
the doleful prison, and I discerned in their
four faces the aspect of my own,
I bit on both my hands for grief. And they,
thinking that I did it from desire of
eating, of a sudden rose up,
and said: ‘Father, it will give us much less
pain, if thou eat of us: thou put upon us
this miserable flesh, and do thou strip it off.’
Then I calmed myself, so not to make them
more sad; that day and the next all were mute.
Ah, hard earth! why didst thou not open?

Dante, Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto xxxiii, 55-66

Also inspired by Ugolino’s story was Rodin who created multiple clay compositions of the tale and included the final version in his Gates of Hell. Unlike Carpeaux, Rodin showcased Ugolino in a crippled and frail state, crawling away from his torment on all fours as his children clench onto him.

Rodin, Ugolino and His Children, Plaster, 46.538.5×44.2cm, 1881, Rodin Museum, Paris (wiki.org)

Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright:

Picture of Dorian Gray, Ivan Albright, Oil on Canvas, 215.9 x 106.7 cm, 1943, Chicago.

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s renown is centered around his scrupulous mastery of the grotesque and macabre, making him, perhaps, one of the best-suited artists for director Albert Lewin to commission for his 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In it, the titular character sells his soul to ensure eternal youth and health, consigning the maledictions of age, illness, and injury to a painted portrait of him, which rots horrifically over time. Here, Albright presents a haunting vision of this portrait in his characteristic Magical Realist style: a devastating reminder of the ephemerality of flesh and inexorable onset of decay.

Statue of St. Bartholomew With His Own Skin by Marco d’Agrate:

Marco d’Agrate, Statue of St. Bartholomew With His Own Skin, 1562, Milan.

Saint Bartholomew was one of Christ’s twelve disciples who was killed because of his Christian faith. Although there are several stories about how he died, the most commonly portrayed version in art history is the one of him being flayed alive. Inside the Milan Duomo stands a sculpture of the saint holding his own skin. In chapter 18 of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroadthe American author describes the sculpture saying:

The figure was that of a man without a skin; with every vein, artery, muscle, every fiber and tendon and tissue of the human frame represented in minute detail. It looked natural, because somehow it looked as if it were in pain. A skinned man would be likely to look that way unless his attention was occupied with some other matter.
It was a hideous thing, and yet there was a fascination about it somehow. I am very sorry I saw it, because I shall always see it now. I shall dream of it sometimes. I shall dream that it is resting its corded arms on the bed’s head and looking down on me with its dead eyes; I shall dream that it is stretched between the sheets with me and touching me with its exposed muscles and its stringy cold legs. It is hard to forget repulsive things.
Michelangelo, Last Judgement, Fresco, 137x120cm, 1536-1541, Vatican City and Damien Hirst, Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, Bronze, 2006, City of London Church

Other renditions of the same topic include Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the infamous Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco. In this depiction of St. Bartholomew on Christ’s right side, Michelangelo hides a rare self portrait in the face of the flayed skin.

Damien Hirst also tackled this subject matter in 2006 creating multiple versions of St. Bartholomew: Exquisite Pain to be installed around London.

Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) by Francisco Goya:

Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat), Francisco Goya, Oil on Plaster Wall (transferred to canvas), 140.5 × 435.7 cm, circa 1822, Madrid.

Spent in a state of gradual mental and physical decline, former court painter Francisco Goya lived reclusively in Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man’s Villa), a farmhouse outside Madrid, towards the end of his life. Hidden from a public he was disillusioned with, he created 14 murals on the plastered walls of the 2-story house; they would later be posthumously restored and transferred to canvas as immortalized testaments to his descent into pain, panic, and paranoia. The above painting depicts a coven of witches consorting with the Devil -perhaps Goya’s way of satirizing the superstitious politics of the contemporary Basque witch trials. Regardless of intent, the fresco presents a disquieting sight of nocturnal conspiracies and the worship of evil.

King Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Dead Horse by David Černý:

David Černý,  King Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Dead Horse, Bronze, Date Unknown (early 2000’s), Art Nouveau Lucerna Palace , Prague.

David Černý is a well known sculptor whose work dominates the streets of Prague. In this quite unsettling installation, he appropriates the famous 19th century monumental statue of King Wenceslas in front of the Czech National Museum in Prague and depicts the king in a similar posture, but riding a dead horse instead. Upon installation, this sculpture has raised many questions and a lot of anger within the Czech community as many say the work is a backlash nod at the Czech’s former president Václav Klaus and his policies. The work evokes a haunting feeling in its viewers, as they are left wondering how such a strong individual of high social standard is unknowingly riding a deceased animal into a losing battle.

All images courtesy indicated in captions.