Today I came across a peculiar image paying homage to the Romantic painter Fuseli’s The Nightmare. See both images and more below.
Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), The Nightmare
1870-1890 Advertisement for baking powder to cure indigestion and nightmares
On The Nightmare, a favorite painting of mine even as a child because of its allusion to dreams (summarized from Wikipedia):
The canvas seems to portray simultaneously a dreaming woman and the content of her nightmare. The incubus and the horse’s head refer to contemporary belief and folklore about nightmares. Contemporary critics were taken aback by the overt sexuality of the painting, which may anticipate Freudian ideas about the unconscious.
The Nightmare simultaneously offers both the image of a dream—by indicating the effect of the nightmare on the woman—and a dream image—in symbolically portraying the sleeping vision. It depicts a sleeping woman draped over the end of a bed with her head hanging down, exposing her long neck. She is surmounted by an incubus that peers out at the viewer. The sleeper seems lifeless, and, lying on her back, she takes a position believed to encourage nightmares. Her brilliant coloration is set against the darker reds, yellows, and ochres of the background. The room is hung with red velvet curtains which drape behind the bed. Emerging from a parting in the curtain is the head of a horse with bold, featureless eyes.
For contemporary viewers, The Nightmare invoked the relationship of the incubus and the horse (mare) to nightmares. The work was likely inspired by the waking dreams experienced by Fuseli and his contemporaries, who found that these experiences related to folkloric beliefs like the Germanic tales about demons and witches that possessed people who slept alone. In these stories, men were visited by horses or hags, giving rise to the terms “hag-riding” and “mare-riding”, and women were believed to engage in sex with the devil. 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.