Top 10 Scary Art: Disturbing Paintings

posted on 7/22/13

Long before there were scary movies, goth art and the whole horror media culture existed, there was only two main ways to get your thrills and chills. One was stories (but you probably heard the same ones all the time) and two was art; drawings and paintings. In this time, seeing a large painting is somewhat like going to movies; there were crowds, there was debate and discussion. There were also genres; paintings of great battles and victories were your action films and yes, there was a place for the scary art: strange, weird and macabre. Back in these times, disturbing or horrifying paintings usually had some moral reason for their creation (otherwise they could be banned, destroyed and land their creators in trouble) usually these moral reasons had to do with showing the brutal punishments for the sinful to keep the common folk well-behaved and loyal to the church or the showing horrible scenes from history (plagues, killings and worse) and beasts and tragedies from old myths. These days we don’t need such reasons to make scary art, we know sometimes we just like a thrill, but let’s take a look back in history at some really scary art!


10. Saint Wolfgang and the Devil – Michael Pacher

This scene by Michael Pacher, an Austrian painter from the 15th century is from his masterpiece, The Altarpiece of St. Wolfgang, a massive detailed carved and painted altar that combined sculpting, painting and architecture. This image would have been visible when the altar was closed after Mass, meaning had you been creeping into the church afterhours, this is the sight you would have been faced with… now that’s scary art!


9. The Triumph of Death – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

In terms of scary art, it’s hard to beat Bruegel’s Triumph of Death: Painted in 1562 during the height of the Black Death in Medieval Europe, Bruegel would have been very familiar with horrifying realities of the plague, society was decaying: rampant looting, stacks of bodies, daily plague carts picking up the dead and massive burials.

Damn Dude

Detail of Painting: Damn Dude

This tragic era is reflected in the hellish landscape, an army of skeleton cutting down the people and mocking the joys and escapes of life, the intent of this painting seems to be that death comes soon and no one will escape.


8. An Execution in Rome for Murder – Richard Bridgens

Sometimes what makes scary art really terrifying is the dry banality of the scene. This everyday execution scene by Richard Bridgens shows a condemned being lead to his death. From the outfits of the handlers in their executors robes and holding high the symbol of the cross, the ritualism of the execution remains unnerving to this day.


7 Death and the Miser – Hieronymus Bosch

Better known for his garden of earthly delights, the master artist also did this painting which is a “memento mori” (a reminder of the crushing power of death, a popular theme at the time for paintings) the skinny non-imposing skull of the figure of death at the door is a chilling image that makes this a eerie reminder of morality, it’s symbolism is heavy handed but it’s very scary art!


6 Le Suicidé – Édouard Manet

Manet’s scholars have difficulty making sense of this work in the larger scope of his collection, (mainly being domestic scenes of social interaction) some suggest an assistant of Manet’s committed suicide, or a dear friend while other say this image is more representative of Manet’s desire to break away from traditional constraints of art of the time (an image of suicide had to always have an association with history, sacrifice or some noble cause) the mystery surrounding this painting only furthers it’s terribleness.


5 Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) – Salvador Dalí

The most well known and well received surrealist, his injection of flat modern design, the cubes and checkerboard floor into one of the common subjects of classic art. The crucifixion makes for a very jarring image, while not malicious or bloody, there is stark uneasiness about this image that makes it profoundly scary art.


4 The Fall of the Damned – Peter Paul Reubens

The image from Christian beliefs of the archangel Michael and his angels throwing the bodies of the damned into the abyss, spiraling into one another as they plunge into Hell. This work has left such an impression on people, in 1959, a man threw acid on this painting in attempt to destroy it.


3 The Great Red Dragon and the Beast of the Sea – William Blake

British Dynamo William Blake was a poet, painter and draftsman. His series of Red devils, burly men with jagged wings have been used for horror movies and Blake is still regarded as one of Britian’s greatest artists of the strange, scary and symbolic.


2 Miss Muriel Belcher – Francis Bacon

Known for smeared and jagged painting style and his juxtaposition of classic and modern images, Bacon’s work in any form always strikes a chord of intense fear, pain and general sense of anxiety run amok.


1 The Scream – Edvard Munch

The classic image of anxiety, fear and depression overwhelming. A distorted figure screaming his head off alone in a weird twisted world. The original Scary Art.

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