Painters have long been some of the most well-respected and venerated members of our society. As with all types of art, painting is supposed to make us stop and think and to give us a window into our own humanity. In this list of the most terrifying paintings you can imagine, the artists have completely disregarded delicate human sensibilities and have painted pieces with unsettling and often gruesome aspects to them. Whether it be countless images of the devil or his demons feasting on tormented and damned humans souls or images which show the gripping horrors and permanence of war, the paintings in this list are not for the faint of heart. From an English artist depicting the horrors of slavery to an edgy modern-day painter illustrating various post-apocalyptic scenarios, the artists herein run the gamut of different styles and time periods but share their desire to shock the viewer and generate public discussion from the image. From just plain weird to completely shocking and demented, see if you can make it through this entire list of 25 of the Most Terrifying Paintings You Can Imagine.
Caution: This list contains images some may find to be shocking, unsettling, and disturbing.
"A Puppet for the Niece", by Santiago Caruso
Born in Argentina in 1982, Santiago Caruso is known for his black-and-white symbolic art pieces. His limited color scheme and use of light focuses the eye on his generally macabre themes.
"Dulle Griet", by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Known as Mad Meg, Dulle Griet was a peasant woman who led an all-female army to pillage the underworld in this previously lost painting by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
"Lucifero", by Francesco Scaramuzza
Francesco Scaramuzza’s painting of Lucifer gives us the creeps, especially due to its slightly hazy appearance and the fact that the devil is chowing down on a human snack. This painting appeared as an illustration in Dante’s Inferno.
"Study of the Heads of Torture Victims", by Théodore Géricault
Théodore Géricault was a post-French Revolution painter using Romantic art to criticize the monarchy and the prevalent rational scientific views of the time. In his painting “Study of the Heads of Torture Victims”, as in others, Géricault used real body parts as his models. The heads’ expressions are said to represent the pessimism of post-revolutionary France.
"Untitled", by Zdzisław Beksiński
The Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński is known for painting scenes of a post-apocalyptic world in his trademark Gothic style.
"The Flaying of Marsyas", by Titian
Flaying is the process of slowly skinning someone alive which was used as a torture and execution method. In this painting by Titian, the satyr Marsyas is flayed for losing a musical challenge against the god Apollo. Gruesome as it is, the story is meant to chastise the excessive pride of an ordinary person (or satyr) to challenge a god.
"The Last Judgment", by Fra Angelico
A legendary Florentine painter of the 15th century, Fra Angelico was known for painting Biblical scenes with a special penchant for the last judgment and the return of Jesus.
"Head of an Idealist", by Ken Currie
Scottish painter Ken Currie is known for his figurative and often haunting portrait paintings. Here, he portrays the conflict between thoughts of the people and of the intellectuals in the seemingly dark and vacant eyes of the idealist.
"Night Creeper", by Zdzisław Beksiński
Zdzisław Beksiński most often paints in the style known as “Fantastic Realism”. Following its themes of deformed figures and exaggerated scenes, as in most of his paintings, “Night Creeper” gives off a sense of dread and fear.
"The Face of War", by Salvador Dalí
Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí used the neverendingness of death to protest against war in his painting entitled “The Face of War”, painted between the Spanish Civil War and World War 2.
If you want even more creepy paintings, check out these 25 disturbing art pieces.
"A new you could be born today", by Santiago Caruso
Santiago Caruso is also known for his avant-garde language in poetry and seemingly post-apocalyptic scenes.
"The Nightmare", by Henry Fuseli
Henry Fuseli’s post famous painting, “The Nightmare” conjures up chilling images of monsters under the bed and things that go bump in the night.
"Judith Beheading Holofernes", by Caravaggio
Better known for his Baroque paintings such as “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”, Caravaggio also had a dark side. Here, the Italian painter illustrates the Deuteronomy story of the widow Judith gruesomely decapitating the charmed Assyrian general Holofernes.
"Massacre of the Innocents", by Peter Paul Rubens
The Belgian painter Peter Paul Rubens brilliantly details the brutality of King Herod’s infanticide crusade from the Biblical Gospel of Matthew. Rubens’ painting captures the shocking massacre of scores of children in this 1611-12 painting.
"Deterioration of Mind Over Matter", by Otto Rapp
Austrian Otto Rapp painted this raw and gruesome decomposing human skull atop a cage in 1973.
"Saturn Devouring His Son", by Peter Paul Rubens
Various painters have depicted the Greek myth of the god Cronus (Saturn in Roman mythology) eating his children once they were born to prevent them from overthrowing him. This Peter Paul Rubens version is especially gruesome due to its life-like nature. (For another chilling version, search for Spanish painter Goya’s depiction.)
"Inferno", by Anonymous
This painting of hell by an unknown author depicts the various kinds of torture inflicted on humans in hell, including stabbing, hanging, and boiling.
Body painting, by Gesine Marwedel
Gesine Marwedel has a knack for using color to create incredibly realistic images, such as this work where it looks like a woman is being torn apart, revealing the mechanisms that make her tick.
"Grave Goods", by Jeff Christensen
Working from Salt Lake City, Jeff Christensen imbues all his work with a seemingly other-worldly yet unsettlingly human nature as seen here in “Grave Goods”.
"Death of Marat I", by Edvard Munch
Better known for his world-famous painting “The Scream of Nature”, Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was renowned for his expressionism and symbolism. Here, he depicts the seemingly stoic murder of famous French Revolution thinker Jean-Paul Marat – confined nearly all day to a bath due to a skin disease – by Charlotte Corday. (If you want to see a more famous though less shocking version, check out the painting by Jacques-Louis David.)
"Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X", by Francis Bacon
On the left is Diego Velázquez’s “Pope Innocent X”, painted in 1650, while on the right is Francis Bacon’s 1953 “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X”. Bacon painted a variety of distorted copies of Velázquez’s famous work but this one where the Pope seems to be screaming out while trapped in a yellow cage is one of the most freaky.
"A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallow", by William Blake
William Blake’s simple yet gut-wrenching painting is based off the account of Dutch solider J.G. Stedman who saw a slave hung by a hook through a single rib, a splitting example of the cruelty of whites towards black slaves at the time.
"Hell", by Hans Memling
“Hell” by German artist Hans Memling depicts the devil’s victory dance on humans burning in the fires of hell. If that’s not enough, the humans are being devoured by a massive beast. The words above the devil read: “In hell, there is no redemption.”
"The Great Body", by Fábio Magalhães
Brazilian painter Fábio Magalhães is an expert at making his paintings seem more like photographs through the intense realism he brings to them. Here, he paints his own body gruesomely tied up in clear bags. These two images are even the least shocking of the group – give his name a search if you want to see the ones which were too intense for this list.
"Degas is Aged", by Valério Carrubba
Valério Carrubba is a hyper-realist Italian painter whose art resembles the anatomical paintings of centuries ago. But his version has a more life-like feel, sending chills up our backs. In what would seem gruesome to nearly all of us, Carrubba’s painting shows a seemingly calm patient having his internal organs revealed.