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Just as beauty can exist in the darkest recesses, darkness has influenced beautiful masterworks, creating a perfect union of horror and art.

Francisco Goya – Saturn Devouring His Son

For centuries, artists have been drawn to dark and macabre themes, which they explored across various mediums, from literature to poetry to paintings to films. Often, they inspired one another. I want to share a couple of examples I find most fascinating.

One of the most iconic dark paintings is Witches’ Sabbath, part of the Black Paintings collection by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. In this painting, a dark and obscure landscape is illuminated by the moonlight, with a giant goat and its big horns at its center, symbolizing the devil. Surrounding the goat are old and younger women, some holding babies.

One of the women, in other words, witches, is holding the baby for the next sacrifice, the other holds a skinny, poorly fed infant, and the last crone has one under her dress.

The painting is, in fact, about witchcraft and about the witch ritual of sacrificing babies to the devil. We can observe a really disturbing scene of witchcraft and sacrifice, depicting three dead babies hanging in the background and one lying on the floor on the left side.

Witches’ Sabbath, Francisco Goya

This artwork and others in the collection are known to have inspired filmmaker Robert Eggers in various scenes of his acclaimed movie The Witch.

Themes of witchcraft, religion, and animals representing evil, as well as expressions of terror, blood on faces, and the representation of the goat as Satan, are actual recurring motifs in his movie, echoing Goya’s artworks.

Since my time in high school studying English literature, I’ve been fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe, who has greatly influenced people. I came across the painting Berenice by French artist Henri Martin, which depicts a fatally wounded woman.

The painter was inspired by Poe’s short story Berenice, about a woman loved by the narrator who is seriously ill and eventually dies. The painting successfully captures the narrator’s obsession with Berenice’s teeth, evoking a sense of discomfort mirrored in the subject’s expression, specifically in her eyes and her mouth half open, where we can have a glimpse of her teeth.

After knowing this last detail, I also felt a sense of discomfort.

Berenice, Henri Martin

Concerning English gothic literature, one of my favorite writers has always been Mary Shelley. Her work, as we all know, inspired plenty of filmmakers, who especially fell in love with her masterpiece Frankenstein.

Recently, I watched Poor Things and noticed visual and thematic resemblances to Mary Shelley’s work.

The film explores themes such as the doctor’s experimentation on dead human beings, which leads to the creation of a different and peculiar creature; the use of black and white; the monster reference; a man and a doctor, both deformed and misunderstood; a parent-child relationship; and the character’s awakening to the nature of the world and struggles.

Promotional art for “Poor Things”

Moreover, although different and addressed to a younger audience, we find another example of homage to Shelley’s work in the animated film Frankenweenie, where the protagonist, Victor, attempts to bring his loyal dog friend back to life. Tim Burton’s piece has a gothic feeling and was made in black and white, which are traditional elements established in Frankenstein.

The beauty of art lies in its open interpretation, which allows artists to create unique masterpieces influenced by those who came before them.

The examples discussed above are just a few among many, illustrating the enduring power of art. As Leonardo da Vinci stated, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

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