Thursday, 26 July 2007


Speaking of illustrations, it is remarkable that whereas contemporary illustrations of werewolves and witches exist, I know of no attempt to show a vampire per se in the eighteenth century literature. So usually you have to rely on more recent material if you wish to illustrate a book on vampires, if only for a cover.

As the covers of the four books below show, the Nightmare paintings of Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1741-1825) are particularly popular. Their imagery is definitely striking, and I doubt that anyone can be quite unaffected by it. Fuseli painted two different paintings on this theme, the first of which was exhibited in 1782. Three of the covers shown are based on the early painting whereas the one on the cover of Die Geschichte der Vampire is from the later version. The paintings have also inspired movie makers, in particular Eric Rohmer (Die Marquise von O... , 1976) and Ken Russell (Gothic, 1986).

However, Fuseli had a close friend, the Danish painter Nicolai Abildgaard (1743-1809), whom Fuseli met in Italy in the 1770'ies. Both painted themes from e.g. mythology, Homer and Shakespeare, and somehow Abildgaard got inspired by Fuseli's Nightmare, because he painted his own version in 1800.

Abildgaard's Mareridt (Nightmare) can be seen at Vestsjællands Kunstmuseum which is located in a small town in central Zealand (Sjælland) in Denmark, Sorø. It's a small painting (approximately 35 cm x 42 cm) and can best be seen on the internet on the museum's own web site. You will notice that Abildgaard's version is probably more daring. There are two women on the bed, one naked and the other only partially covered. There is no horse in Abildgaard's version, only a moonlit night and the shadow of the creature (the mare) in the background.

One interesting detail, which I have attempted to make more clear by enhacing the contrast in the above excerpt, is that it looks like the woman at the back has blood trickling down her leg and foot. I can't remember noticing this when I visited the museum sometime last year, so it may be the reproduction that is playing a trick on me!

It is not clear precisely how Abildgaard was inspired by Fuseli's Nightmare. He probably never saw any of the original paintings, but they inspired numerous variations and pastiches (an example can be seen here), including a political satire published in Denmark in 1797, so the theme was well known. A print similar to Fuseli's second painting is known from 1794, so Abildgaard could have seen it.

Interestingly, there is a drawing by Abildgaard from 1805 in which Odysseus (Ulysses) and Calypso are drawn on a bed in postures very similar to those of the two women in the Mareridt painting.

James B. Twitchell reproduces a few examples of other works that have been inspired by Fuseli's paintings in The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Duke Univ. Press, 1981), which by the way has a very nice jacket design in which Fuseli's lady gets two punctures in her neck revealing the red colour of the bookbinding. Twitchell's book is shown in the lower left corner of the photo above. The other three books are: Markman Ellis: The History of Gothic Fiction (Edinburg Univ. Press, 2005), Claude Lecouteux: Die Geschichte der Vampire (Artemis & Winkler, 2001), and John William Polidori: 'The Vampyre' and other writings (Carcanet Press, 2005).

Addendum: Here is a very interesting drawing by Fuseli titled The Nightmare Leaving Two Sleeping Women dated 1810. The (night)mare leaves the two women on the horse (mare). Obviously, the idea of the (night)mare visiting more than one woman at a time was known to Fuseli. Certainly, the women are no longer sleeping, but they are naked like in Abildgaard's painting.

1 comment:

Nicolas Barbano said...

I completely share Howard's frustration with Role-Playing gamers confusing RPG-rules with folklore; for instance, the Danish Wikipedia-article on zombies is a mess due to this type of influence!

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