|Nicolai Abildgaard: Nightmare (1800)|
Coincidentally, two stories I've worked on this month - The Sorcerer's Apprentice and a Lovecraftian horror I'm doing under my other alias - have themes that overlap. Both are concerned with the folklore of sleep and nightmares.
The most famous depiction in Western art of this is by Henry Fuseli:
|The Nightmare (1781)|
It was such a masshoosively successful painting that he painted several different versions, with increasing floppy and bare-breasted women, to increase sales:
|The Nightmare (1790)|
The demon on the woman's chest is derived not only from actual anecdotes of sleep paralysis, but also via medieval lore of the Incubus (from the Latin "to lie upon") which is a demon that sexually molests women in the night. The female equivalent (or form) - responsible for erotic dreams and nocturnal hard-ons even among the most chaste of monks and saints - is the Succubus ("to lie under").
|Charles Walker: The Incubus (1870)|
Fuseli's Nightmare has become so iconic that it was ripped off by artists, contemporary political satirists and then early photographers:
|Boobies! And a monkey!|
I suspect that it is also entirely Fuseli's fault that we connect the word "nightmare" with actual horses (thank you, Dungeons and Dragons, for that personal confusion). The "mare" bit actually derives from Mara, which is Old Norse name denoting that hag-like spirit who plagues people and livestock in the night. It has nothing to do with equines.
And yet there is Fuseli's horse sticking its nose in ... ! (Much play has been made by critics, btw, of the "phallic nature" of the horse's head, "thrusting through" the curtains. Because if a woman is having a bad dream then it must be about sex, I guess. Women in art have to be sexualised, because what else are they there for?)
|Eugène Thivier: Le Cauchemar 1894|
|An Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Women (1810)|
|(... and 1793) (Fuseli, btw, was perfectly capable of painting straight-up porn)|
That sort of robs the little git of a lot of his menace, I feel - he can't even disappear back to Hell under his own power! Maybe he gave up his job in embarrassment and made way for this sexier, scarier version:
|Fritz Schwimbeck - My Dream, My Bad Dream. (1915)|