Daily Dose of Art #28: Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare (1781)

For us, The Nightmare invokes the relationship of the incubus and the horse (mare) to nightmares. 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.