The Nightmare (1781)
by Henry Fuseli (Switzerland, 1741-1825)
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.
For contemporary viewers, The Nightmare invoked the relationship of the incubus and the horse (mare) to nightmares. 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. In these stories, men were visited by horses or hags, giving rise to the terms "hag-riding" and "mare-riding", and women were believed to engage in sex with the devil. The etymology of the word "nightmare", however, does not relate to horses. Rather, the word is derived from mara, a Scandinavian mythological term referring to a spirit sent to torment or suffocate sleepers. The early meaning of "nightmare" included the sleeper's experience of weight on the chest combined with sleep paralysis, dyspnea, or a feeling of dread. The painting incorporates a variety of imagery associated with these ideas, depicting a mare's head and a demon crouched atop the woman.
Fuseli may have added the horse as an afterthought, since a preliminary chalk sketch did not include it. Its presence in the painting has been viewed as a visual pun on the word "nightmare" and a self-conscious reference to folklore—the horse destabilizes the painting's conceit and contributes to its Gothic tone.
Printed with Dye/Pigment Reactive Ink On archival matte paper Shipped in heavy duty poster tube Heavy weight (230 gsm), thick base (9.5 mil), and an instant-dry coating that resists fingerprints and smudging.
- Printed with Dye/Pigment Reactive Ink
- On archival matte paper
- Shipped in heavy duty poster tube
- Heavy weight (230 gsm), thick base (9.5 mil), and an instant-dry coating that resists fingerprints and smudging.