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Ditlev Blunck - Nightmare Scene (1846)

Leo Putz - Vanitas (1896)

Today's December Double is a sublime pair of paintings which appeal to darker sensibilities. 'Nightmare Scene' by Danish painter Ditlev Blunck and 'Vanitas' by Tyrolean painter Leo Putz are both unsettling, cryptic works, crafted to place the viewer on guard with imagery which contains both sensual and disturbing elements.

Upon first viewing, 'Nightmare Scene' made to do a double-take. That creepy, dark-toned rabbit creature, perched on top of the young woman’s chest, was not immediately apparent to me, with its torso hidden against the shadow of the background. When I spotted it though—notably those wicked ears—this painting made me jump back. Furthermore, the sight of this creature looming over the woman’s exposed breast while watching her sleep is very unnerving. She certainly doesn’t seem to have experiencing a nightmare, but she surely will once she wakes up and finds herself face-to-face with that demonic creature.

The threat in 'Vanitas' is more atmospheric, noting that omnibus face and accompanying figures looming in the background. Griping her head, the nude woman is turned away from us, not inviting the viewer to share her torment. This is a pain she will have to endure alone. The title of this work refers to a genre of Dutch still-life painting containing symbolism pertaining to death and the inevitability thereof. Make of that what you will.

As with ‘Nightmare Scene’, the antagonist in ‘Vanitas’ is shrouded in darkness, lurking in the shadows like a predator in wait for its prey. Furthermore, the white bedsheets in each scene stand out against the otherwise dark palettes, perhaps indicating the purity of the female victims. Both paintings also seem to utilize the nudity as a source of vulnerability.

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