In the web of emotions people get tangled in, fear has the power to tightly grip its victims, making it the most instinctual and genuine emotion of human nature. Love reflects the most sophisticated side of human evolution, as it speaks of survival of the fittest and natural selection. Fear is tucked away in the hindbrain, in the dark, remote areas that takes us back to our most primitive state.
The object of fear has changed with the passing of time. Fear of medieval witches or God’s punishment are no longer relevant in this day and age. The contemporary definition of fear fits in our existential anguish, and it has become a philosophical torture. In the twentieth century, humanity came face to face with its most profound nightmares. The great wars that tore apart entire continents showed mankind the potential it holds in its hands to exterminate its entire species. Then, paranoia swept across all nations, as fear of a nuclear holocaust gripped men during the Cold War.
Fear and violence come hand in hand, and they remind us of the impermanence of life. The act of life is chaotic and violent from the moment of birth to death, so in this sense, violence is a powerful creative force, but once fear gets in the way, it paralyzes, and man is reduced to his most basic components.
These are ten paintings that capture on canvas the relationship between violence and horror, when man is exposed in his rawest form.
“Diomedes Devoured by Horses” (1870) – Gustave Moreau
According to Greek mythology, Diomedes was a giant who possessed four carnivorous mares he had trained to feast on the flesh of his enemies. In one of his missions, Hercules gathered a group of men and stole the horses. After a terrible fight, he flung Diomedes to his beasts and watched him being devoured alive.
“Necronom IV” – Hans Ruedi Giger
The Swiss painter and sculpture was inspired by sombre landscapes, decadent stages, and most specially by recurring nightmares. He immortalized one of these characters from his unconscious on canvas, and it has inspired other creative minds like Ridley Scott, who used it as inspiration for Alien (1979) where it garnered worldwide recognition.
“Study of Two Severed Heads” (1818) – Théodore Géricault
Very little is known about the life of Géricault, but this series was inspired by madness, pain, and death, and includes severed body parts. The painter frequented mental asylums and morgues to find inspiration for the paintings he would create deep in the darkness of the night.
“Medusa” (1618) – Rubens
The famous mythological Greek monster was immortalized by Caravaggio in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and eight year later Rubens would offer his own take on the moment Perseus decapitates Medusa.
“Deterioration of Mind Over Matter” (1973) – Otto Rapp
The remains of body organs and a skull rest in a large bird cage, and trapped within it is the tongue. Elongated, human-like figures contemplate this grotesque figure from afar, while the drooping eye lying on the floor stares right at the viewer.
“The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (1810) – William Blake
The poet and painter William Blake created a series based on The Book of Revelation. In this particular piece, the Red Dragon takes on an anthropomorphic appearance with seven heads and ten horns. With his back to the viewer, the dragon’s great tail has swept away the celestial bodies and is hurling them to Earth, while a woman lies at his feet, waiting to be devoured.
“Gallowgate Lard” (1960) – Ken Currie
Ken Currie is an English artist obsessed with morbid faces and the effects of sickness, old age, and the passing of time on the body. He created one of the most enigmatic self-portraits ever painted. The white, ghostly features contrast with the dark background; his red tinted mouth and nose speak of violence, and his sunken eyes stare unflinchingly at the viewer, making it the most terrifying element of the painting.
“Smiling Spider” (1881) – Odilon Redon
During his period of experimentation, Redon walked away from his Post-Impressionist counterparts by delving into dark and sinister artistic waters. The “Smiling Spider” reminds us of his obsession with black, “one must respect black, nothing prostitutes it. It does not please the eye and it awakens no sensuality. It is the agent of the mind far more than the most beautiful color to the palette or prism,” he once explained.
“Dante et Virgile” (1850) – William Adolphe Bouguereau
Bouguereau was inspired to create a raw and realistic painting based on an extract from Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece. As Dante and Virgil walk through the eighth circle of hell, they encounter two men fighting ferociously. We see a man lying on his knees suffering a savage attack from his enemy, who is biting his neck and furiously kneeing him on the back.
“Figure with Meat” (1954) – Francis Bacon
Goya’s “Portrait of Pope Inocencio X” (1650) is the point of inspiration for the work of this Irish painter. “Figure with Meat” is a portrait of pain, horror, and the decadence of absolute power of the pontifex. The pope is portrayed as a demonic entity who is surrounded by the corpses of flayed animals.
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