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Top 10 Terrifying Paintings By Great Artists

LordZB . . . Comments

Often when we think of paintings in museums we imagine charming landscapes and stately portraits. However, art can be, and has often been, challenging in the subjects it portrays, or the way in which it presents ideas. Sometimes an artist creates a work so unsettling that it crosses the line from unnerving to scary. You might not want them hanging on your bedroom wall, but they are definitely worth examining. Here are ten of the most terrifying pictures by great artists.


The Great Red Dragon and the Beast of the Sea
William Blake


William Blake is well-known today for his engravings and romantic poetry, but his reputation while alive was almost non-existent. Blake’s engravings and illustrations are classics of romantic style, and sprang from his imagination rather than close studies of nature. For our purposes it is Blake’s watercolor series which depict the great red dragon from the Book of Revelation, which merit his inclusion in this list. Here the great red dragon, an avatar of the Devil, is depicted in hideous glory standing over the seven-headed beast of the sea.


Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Innocent X
Francis Bacon

Study After Velazquez%27S Portrait Of Pope Innocent X

Francis Bacon was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His paintings are bold and bleak in the figurative style. His paintings sell for millions of pounds and even slash canvasses – Bacon destroyed works with which he was unhappy – sell for small fortunes. Over the course of Bacon’s life he returned to the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, and made studies and interpretations of his own. Velazquez’s original shows Pope Innocent X looking pensively out of the canvas as if about to speak, Bacon has his Pope shrieking.


Dante and Virgil in hell
William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau %281825-1905%29 - Dante And Virgil In Hell %281850%29

Dante’s inferno, with its imagery of tortuous damnation, has inspired artists ever since its publication. William-Adolphe Bouguereau is best known for his realistic images of classical scenes. However, here Bouguereau steps away from classical tranquility to the pits of hell, where the impersonators fight ceaselessly, stealing each others identities by biting. As a demon gloats, Dante and Virgil look on at the damned.

“In a frenzy, like pigs escaped from their sties,
Snapping wildly at everything in sight.
One of them fastened his teeth like a vise.”


The Death of Marat
Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch is Norway’s most famous painter. The Scream, his famous painting and expression of angst, has entered the public consciousness. Jean-Paul Marat was one of the leading political lights of the French revolution. Suffering from a skin disease, Marat was known to spend most of the day in a bathtub where he would work on his writings. It was there that Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday. The death of Marat has been painted several times, but Munch’s is a particularly brutal vision.


Heads Severed
Theodore Gericault

Gericault Severed Heads

Gericault’s most famous work is the Raft of the Medusa, a vast romantic canvas which shows his artistic style. Gericault sought to break out of the classicism which was the standard painting style of his day. Romanticism was not afraid to tackle emotional subjects. Gericault worked on paintings such as this as prefatory pieces before he tackled his larger works. He found limbs and severed heads in the morgues and dissection labs of hospitals. The painting is troubling, but many great artists have studied the dead to better paint the living.


The Temptation of St. Anthony
Matthias Grunewald

Screen Shot 2011-09-15 At 13.31.23

Grunewald painted religious imagery in the style of the middle ages, even though he lived during the renaissance. St Anthony the Great was said to have faced several trials and tests of his faith while worshiping in the desert. In one legend, St Anthony was killed by demons living in a cave, only to revive and destroy them later. This image from the Isenheim Triptych, three image altarpiece shows St Anthony succumbing to their attack. The bizarre collection of demons seen in the Isenheim altarpiece is reminiscent of the work of the more famous Hieronymus Bosch.


Mask Still Life III
Emil Nolde

Nolde Masks Still Life  Iii 1911

Emil Nolde was one of the early expressionist painters, though his fame has been eclipsed recently by other painters of expressionism such as Munch. Expressionism seeks to distort reality to reveal a subjective viewpoint. This painting was made as a study of masks in the Berlin museum, as well as a shrunken head. Throughout his life, Nolde showed a fascination with other cultures and this painting, with its interpretation of various masks, is in that same vein.


Saturn Devouring His Son
Francisco Goya

Francisco De Goya%2C Saturno Devorando A Su Hijo %281819-1823%29

In Roman myth, based heavily on the Greek myth, the father of the Gods devours his own children to ensure none greater than himself ever comes into being. It is this act of child murder that Goya has painted. The painting was never meant for public consumption, as it was painted on the wall of his house alongside several other grim paintings known collectively as ‘The Black Paintings.’ Some see the painting as a comment on the aging process that must have been playing out in the aging artist’s mind. Of the Black Paintings which Goya completed the other most famous work is probably his Witches’ Sabbath.


Judith Beheading Holofernes

Caravaggio Judith Beheading Holofernes

The book of Judith in the Old Testament tells the story of a daring widow, Judith, and her saving of the Israelites. In the story, Israel is under attack by an army led by Holofernes. Judith sets out to meet him and uses her beauty to win her way into Holofernes’ heart. Once he trusts her, Judith then proceeds to get Holofernes drunk and, with her handmaid, decapitates the general to save Israel. This scene has been a popular one for artists, but Caravaggio’s version is particularly gruesome. The grim look of determination on the face of Judith’s handmaid counterbalances the unreadable expression on Judith herself, and the cry of terror on Holofernes’.


The Garden of Earthly Delights
Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch - The Garden Of Earthly Delights - Hell

Hieronymus Bosch is linked in the popular imagination with his disquieting and fantastic religious paintings. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych showing, on the three panels respectively, the Garden of Eden and the creation of mankind, the Garden of Earthly Delight, and in the last panel the punishments for the sins which occur in that earthly garden. It is that final panel, and the imaginative torments in it, which have become associated with Bosch. A glance at the panel is enough to give a feeling of the horrors divine punishment hold, but a close examination shows the true talent Bosch had for witty detail. The painting is packed with symbolism such as that seen in this portion.

All in all, Bosch’s work is some of the most horrific, yet beautiful work in the history of western art.

  • venusbloo


    • venusbloo

      William Blake was a superb artist & poet, I love his work.

      • Josh Davis

        touche to that sir. (the creator/urizen is one of my favorites)

        • Michaelbangedyalol

          painting is for puffs

          • venusbloo

            The decorators union won’t be happy with you,

          • powerpuffpainter

            Still having trouble figuring those crayons out huh?

  • SamuraiHP

    great list on a subject I know nothing about!

  • mehmeh

    interesting idea, even if it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. anything “terrifying” is usually subjective, but indeed, I don’t know if I’d hang any of them above my bed :)

  • Thanks for this list LordZB, I’m gonna have to check out further paintings from these artists. I’ve never heard of 6 of them.

  • Christine Vrey

    This is a awesome list!!! I am slightly art obsessed, and this list showed some great examples of fantastic but disturbing art. I LOVE number 8, The lighting on their bodies is superb and I love the two judgemental men in the background… GREAT LIST!!!!, no sorry, BEST LIST

  • fraterhater

    Great to see an art list.

    The visual image can be a very powerful thing and these are some examples of artworks that have the power to illicit strong emotional responses, to view them in anything less than in person does not do justice to the effect they have.

  • Sethlad

    What? No Bruegel’s Triumph of Death?! pfffffffff

    • Josh Davis

      I have a Black Sabbath album with that as the cover (such an awesome painting) the Bruegel family was epic when it came to art.

  • moopersoup

    #2 is a really amazing painting, I’d love to see it in person

    • Jennifer

      I saw it a few years ago at a Bacon retrospective, I actually went just to see it. It’s surprisingly big and any reproductions you see don’t do it justice at all.
      By all means look up the original painting – Innocent X didn’t like it because he felt it showed too much of his personality. He must have been a frightening man indeed.

    • anaxahra

      There is an entire Bacon collection at the Belgian National Art Museum (an entire floor) and all of his paintings are gigantic and equally as disturbing.

  • listverselovesscarypaintings

    Bosch is nuts, ive always loced his work, #9 is freakin wicked, great list

  • Seymour Butts

    I actually really like Dante and Vigil in Hell. I wouldn’t mind it in my living room.

  • bugface

    i adore caravaggio but the artmisia gentileschi judith beheading holofernes is so much better.

    • Lenora

      Thats what I came to post. Her Judith is raw and really terrifying whearas this one looks like she is shrinking away. She definitely should have made this list.

  • purle

    i woke up from a nightmare only to find this! i dnt thnk i should sleep again. what a co-incedence

  • heitham

    Very good list

  • Will Trame

    Good list; I always have loved art. Speaking of Munch’s “The Scream”, I believe that it deserved a place on this list. It was nice to see “Garden of Earthly Delights” at #1; the musicians’ hell was definitely unnerving. Interestingly, two rock bands utilized that particular painting for their album covers….Deep Purple and Pearls Before Swine. And, speaking of album related artwork, Uriah Heep’s “Abominog” was both unnerving and frightening…ugly, too.

    • QDV

      And then there’s the cover of Sabbath’s “Born Again,” which singer Ian Gillan said made him puke. :-)

      • Will Trame

        Good call on that one. Other annoying…if not terrifying….album jackets include Black Sabbath’s debut album (not a painting, but scary with the dark figure in front of Maple Durham Watermill), Rainbow’s “Straight Between The Eyes” and Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”.

  • suvro

    Where is Mona Lisa? Her smile freaks me out!

  • I liked this a lot. Different from the usual list and very creepy. Great job.

  • I’ve always loved Bosch’s work. His depictions of Hell are interesting in the fact that thy’re so unsettlingly colorful, like someone fixed a flood light right at Hells gates. Although I’ve never heard of it, number nine is a very disturbing entry too. I’m a little surprised H. R. Giger didn’t make this list, but that’s only because I’m a huge fan (^_^)

  • g3nov3s3

    What about John Wayne Gacy’s pictures? They are all damn freaky!!!!

    • chela

      i was thinking of this, too. but then, it just becomes really creepy and terrifying once you knew who painted them.

    • Maggot

      In what parallel universe is Gacy considered a “great” artist?

  • Jozef Lord of all pies

    WOHOO only 18. that’s as early as I am ever going to get.
    Very nice list. Alltough pope innocent was the most terrifying in my humble opinion. Freaks me out to see what anybody can do with anything if they set there own vision on it.

  • wasd

    love # 6

  • Rex

    A truly magnificent list. Would have put Bacon as nr. 3, but otherwise – spot on

  • Gabryel

    this list is fun ! i love art personally and i wish you could some more like this . number 2 was really awsome , cause its very detailed . the author is right about the list and on what he is saying

  • antonlavey

    Awesome list, I really enjoyed it. No3 was easily my favorite.

  • Julius

    Great list. A possible addition would be one of the works of Alfred Kubin. He was depressed and suicidal, which you can very clearly see in his works.

  • Troll

    • eduardo jaramillo

      u talkin 2 me

  • NeutronStar

    No Zdzis?aw Beksi?ski?

    • Josh Davis

      THANK YOU for putting this name on here. you have made a new fan of this gentlemen out of me

  • oouchan

    I\’ve seen scarier pictures on album covers.

    None of these paintings were terrifying….maybe disturbing, bizarre or gross…..but not terrifying. However, I did enjoy the list and found it interesting. I love the pope screaming at number 9. Might have to buy a rendition of that because it cracked me up.

    Neat list.

    • Vic.

      “i would have done this” “i would have written it like that”
      so many of you here. stfu.

      • oouchan

        WTF is crawled up yourself and died? Really…several comments on several lists trolling. I commented on this list, yet you bash.

        The title isn’t great. I pointed that out. Get over it.

      • OmegaMan

        Vic., it is called an “opinion”. Look it up in the dictionary, it’s not that hard. Sharing your views with someone is always good, and it doesn’t mean that you cannot contradict theirs. I guess you would be pretty happy if you get a chance to live in a fictional Orwellian era. Good luck with that.

  • idesofmarch

    “Diomedes Being Devoured By His Horses” by Gustave Moreau is a pretty terrifying painting…just in case a “Part 2” is soon to follow :)
    Great list, though!

  • Ryan

    No. 2 is terrific.

  • OmegaMan

    Not terrifying, I wouldn’t go that far but I would definitely not hang any of these in my house. So good list. :)

  • Food Mountain

    Personally I find the Gentileschi version of Judith Beheadding Holofernes far more horrific. Not to bash Caravaggio or anything, but the Gentileschi version strikes me as gorier. The blood seems to leap from the painting. It makes my skin crawwwlll.

    • Samzilla

      I agree, you can hear him choking on his own blood in the Gentileschi.

      • sWAPIE

        Well said.

  • GrammerNazi

    Mein Führer would no approve of such very scary paintings.

  • Hercules321

    What an excellent idea for a list!

    #3 – scary as hell!

    #1 and #5 not so much at first glance

  • Trent

    I think it’s about bloody time that Listverse gets it’s own app. I mean come on already. I love listverse and I think it’s the absolute greatest stupendous and fantastic top list website ever created. Also I think the people of listverse should hire me as one of their writers/list creators because I need the job and I adore this site. I would put my heart and soul into this site. I am begging you on my knees. Get an app and hire me. My email is there. My name is Trent. Please consider them both. ?

  • QueenWeiner

    Woah woah woah. Not even an honorable mention about Hands Resist Him ? MADNESS!!

  • Jack

    There is not now, nor has there ever been a “Book of Judith” in the Old Testament. Other than that, a fascinating list.

    • Lifeschool

      Maybe he read the script for The Life of Brian?

    • Josh Davis

      it is not found in the hebrew bible but has been translated into other versions and the christian church recognizes its canonicity. (as if religious ideals are not confusing enough at times)

      • Spaz

        Well, I belong to the Christian church and it is not. So, it is better to say that some denominations believe in it’s canonicity.

        • Josh Davis

 (go ahead and have a read)

          • Spaz

            Thanks Josh, I read over the article but have a question. According to the article “The Book of Judith does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and is consequently excluded from the Protestant Canon of Holy Scripture. But the Church has always maintained its canonicity.” Why would the Protestant church not include it in the Bible if they believe in its canonicity? I will ask my friend, who was raised Catholic and converted to Protestant when he saw the light ;-), his opinion.

          • It’s interesting how a list about art spawned a tangent discussion about theology.

      • Jack

        Ah, but there’s the rub. The author of the list clearly states the book as belonging to the Old Testament (ie.,the set of books addressing Jehovah”s covenant {contract or promise} with Abraham. Indeed, a testament is a contract. Therefore, the old contract is the Old Testament. Conversely, the New Testament addresses Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection which embodies a new contract with mankind. The individual books are known as the New Testament (new contract. Again, the author errs when stating that the book of Judith is a part of the Old Testament. It is not; nor has it ever been. It may indeed be a part of a New testament compilation, letters and books collected after the time of Christ, but holds no part or parcel with the Old Testament.

  • Josh Davis

    bacons pope painting is at the Hirschorn Museum of Modern Arts in Washington D.C. if anyone wants to see it. (also thanks for adding GOYA) great movie on netflix instant titled “goyas ghost”

  • Lifeschool

    Some interesting list items here; would have liked to read more about some of the interpretations (esp. #7), but a noble effort.

    • Vic.

      you’re not impressed with anything are you?

  • Josh Davis

    would have loved to see Aleksej Cvelov’s (autobiography)

  • cal

    also missing Picasso’s Guernica

  • kwg

    To call it a list of ‘terrifying’ paintings seems a bit misleading, but it’s certainly an interesting if not unsettling collection.

  • Dono

    saturn devouring his son is by far the most creepy in my opinion. a dark mind goya must have had

  • vanowensbody

    Great list

  • George Ofwona

    interesting indeed !

  • Vic.

    Kudos to the writer for not including any Cthulu redundancies. ;)

  • Vic.

    every list my friends have linked me to hear, always has people complaining in the comments. I have never seen so many envious prudes assemble on one website.

    • oouchan

      Of course you are complaining as well….but you missed that, huh? Troll somewhere else.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinions….including you, but no need to bash.

    • Guernica

      There are other Top Ten lists out there. They average about three comments per list. If you don’t like complaints, you should be at one of those lists trying to get some feedback.

  • Kyle

    A very good list. I wish you added a bonus section… there are a few good mentions including:

    and another one I personally saw in person:

  • carlito

    Marat was just a “leading political light” of the French Revolution?

    He was one of the worst butchers in history, sending hundreds of people to their deaths by the guillotine.

    You shouldn’t sugarcoat history.

    • bigski

      he was a stirrer up of s hit….

  • “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Ivan Albright (actually, almost anything by Ivan Albright). Albright was born and raised near Chicago, and only a city that grew up around a stockyards could love him.

  • Who copied who? Is the writer the same person of this list? Its word for word!

  • just realised that the author of all these lists is JF….ah need spanked…or at least a lesson in reading before writing *embarrassed* soz! :)

    • Guernica

      Oh. That’s confusing as Listverse doesn’t give him as the author.

      • Guernica

        funny goof in one of the copies. In the very first line, someone has changed “think” to “consider,” giving the phrase “consider of.” Apparently, someone thought they could make an improvement, but “consider of” is just horribly awkward and wrong.

  • Callum Hansey

    Would have possibly also included Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ in the list. Black and White image of the Luftwaffe bombing of the aforementioned Basque town.

  • jhhwild

    I think anything by Stephen Gamell is pretty creepy and at times “terrifying”, he is most well known for the illustrations in the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series. I personally consider him a great artist even though he probably isn’t as well known as the others in this list.

    If you want a creepy work of art by a relatively obscure artist then you should look up “The Hands Resist Him” by Bill Stoneham. It is supposedly cursed which just adds to the creepiness.

    Also there is a portrait of a crying boy that is also supposedly cursed because as the legend goes whoever possessed it would go through a house fire destroying the house but leaving the painting unscathed. Even without the curse it is still an unsettling image, I don’t know who painted it though so I can’t really say for sure whether or not its by a “great artist”. Here is a link to the image if you want to check it out:

    I wanted to make a list like this of my own but I didn’t have the patience to complete it, and I didn’t know exactly what to write about for many of the paintings I chose. I’m glad somebody made this list.

    • Food Mountain

      Gamell’s work is a huge inspiration to me. I have a crop of pencil drawings inspired by his style.
      His drawings are truly terrifying. When I was a kid, they scared the crap out of me. I’d huddle in the corner of the library at lunch hour reading those books nonstop.

  • Matt

    Fantastic list. I love how almost no two listings have the same subject matter

  • Sean

    Number 3 is definently the creepiest to me. The whole group of the “black paintings” paint the portrait of a person with serious problems

  • mordechaimordechai

    There is something that doesn’t convinces me about the Caravaggio.

    I mean the event is impressive and terrifying but the style, the execution is somewhat theatrical. It is like we are watching a staged acting rather then the real scene. Just look at Judith’s face: Am i doing it right, Grandma? lol.

  • nathan

    Great list!
    Sure scare the crap out out of me!

  • kgreer6350

    A Bacon painting was saved when Joker’s henchmen tore through that art gallery in Batman. Jack Nicholson even said,
    “Bob, I kind of like this one… leave it.”
    I guess that says something about the disturbing nature of Bacon’s canvases.

  • Foreign

    So what?

  • Samuel

    Looks like something a rich person would buy.

  • Food Mountain

    I remember seeing #3 firsthand at Museo del Prado a few years ago. As I remember it, one first got to see Goya’s rendition of the royal family. Then, right around a small partition, was the Saturn piece (the Third of May was in there somewhere, too). It was a shocking transition. I couldn’t look at it for too long without getting queasy. It’s monstrous and wonderful.

  • RedMan

    I didn’t find any of these terrifying but still really enjoyed these paintings so thanks a bunch.

  • illchay

    Cerca Trova??

  • eduardo jaramillo

    Interesting list… Well thought out but when i saw it I immediately thought “guernica by Picasso!” and was slightly disappointed not to see it… i can understand why the author might not include it, but I view it as a pretty disturbing piece of work, and I think it would have been cool to include a piece by Picass0. Otherwise though, great job, really liked this one…

  • cat

    i’m sorry but artemisia gentileschi’s version of judith slaying Holofernes is for more disturbing and powerful. where as caravaggio makes judith seem squimish, daft, and sexual next to her haggish maid, gentileschi shows a more realistic version, judith is not a wilting flower. she’s cutting his head off to save her life and those she loved. caravaggios shows no true passion, take a deeper look at the faces in both paintings, look at the body language. i stand with gentileschi’s side.

  • p

    All these artists are amazing. <3

  • Jayme

    Very nice list but I think Picasso’s Guernica deserved a spot here. It personally creeps me out. But maybe it’s juste me… :)

  • Keri

    Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare freaks me out the most.

  • Elizabeth

    Good job with the list. I would have included the scream by Edvard munch.

  • Jelenche

    I really don’t find Caravaggio “terrifying” (not saying that Gentileschi’s better suited either!); for me, it’s great depiction of baroque- realism, but there is nothing terrifying about it… Munch’s or Bacon’s canvas show far better what “terrifying” can be, presented through the medium of visual art- anxious, unspeakable, unforgettable!
    It’s not about gore and gallons of blood- If you are interested in that kind of kichy trash, theres plenty around!

    …nuff said

  • fendabenda

    “The Garden of Death” by Hugo Simberg?

  • mememe

    This one haunted my childhood dreams because I saw it live, as a kid.

    Just a personal note: #8 isn’t terrifying, it’s a magnificent study of male anatomy and from my perspective, more ‘sexy’ than terrifying…

    • mememe

      …can’t wright se:xy??!!!


  • Everything by Hieronymus Bosch is deeply frightening, yet supremely beautiful.

  • Jim

    Nothing by Zdzislaw Beksinski? For shame!

  • “Head Of Medusa” by Peter Paul Reubens is not on the list

  • Harmony

    Bosch DID paint the Temptation of St Anthony. It hangs in Madrid. And I have the lithograph hanging in my living room.
    I’m creepy like that.
    Nice list !!

  • christine

    i really liked this website because i need a lot of names for my reaseach 2012

  • ash

    the hands resist him is pretty creepy

  • Fabrizio

    a very good list.
    Let me suggest you another painting about Judith and Oloferne I think better depicts the violence of the scene.
    Caravaggio remaing a truly master, I think Artemisia Gentileschi’s one is quite more realistic.
    It really punch you with the vivdness of the image

  • AdamJames

    Forget water lilies and sunflowers, THIS is art!

  • Dali

    i was expecting Bosch,truly terrifying and fascinating at the same time…remember seeing it in a book when i was little,it haunted my dreams.I looked at it for hours,inspecting every detail…

  • Metalhead420

    The Dante in Hell painting is the cover art for one of Gorgoroth’s albums.

  • Rod Miranda

    Jean-Michel Basquiat must be in this list!