For Halloween, we’re sharing a new Image Universe feature exploring how artists have envisioned the afterlife.
Ghosts have long held a significant place in artists’ reflections of the world—from portions of The Odyssey and One Thousand and One Nights to Wuthering Heights, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Sixth Sense. To get in the spooky spirit, we’re sharing a selection of representations of ghosts and other spectral presences throughout art history.
Some of the artworks are allegorical, like Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, 1781—an eroticized vision of a sleeping woman being visited by a ghoulish incubus—and Giovanni Martinelli’s Death Comes to the Banquet Table, c. 1630–40, a play on the convention of memento mori paintings, which were intended to remind viewers of their own mortality. Others are more formal or conceptual in their connections, including Lynda Benglis’ eerily glowing polyurethane “pour” sculptures and Jamie Isenstein’s humorous exploration of how we, as humans, have depicted ghostly figures. We’ve also included some pop-culture phantoms with an affinity for art: soon-to-be-dead Sam Wheat played by Patrick Swayze in the infamous pottery-wheel scene from director Jerry Zucker’s Ghost (1990) and the demon inhabiting an antique mirror in director Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (2013).
Though we’ll likely never agree on what exactly a ghost looks like, or whether they are in fact real, it’s a safe bet that artists will continue attempting to envision life after death in all its unknown possibilities.