Sleep is essential to fuel artists’ creativity; plus, it provides necessary rejuvenation to support hours spent perfecting each work. The enigmatic, otherworldly state of sleep has also served as inspiration to artists. Throughout history, sleep has been appeared in art across a range of symbolic representations—from innocence to death, to unreason or idleness. Here are a few examples of classic artists incorporating sleep into their work. Sleep is essential to fuel artists’ creativity; plus, it provides necessary rejuvenation to support hours spent perfecting each work. The enigmatic, otherworldly state of sleep has also served as inspiration to artists. Throughout history, sleep has been appeared in art across a range of symbolic representations—from innocence to death, to unreason or idleness. Here are a few examples of classic artists incorporating sleep into their work.
Bernado Strozzi, Sleeping Child, early 17th century
A white bed, rosy cheeks and fingers that seem to twitch as a baby does while sleeping; the scene impresses with extraordinary realism. The closeup image of the child's face and the absence of distracting gadgetry present the viewer with a special snapshot of sleep. Unlike in other Baroque works, Bernardo Strozzi does not embed sleep into a historical or religious context, but rather lets it speak for itself. Apart from the childlike innocence—which is portrayed by the coral bracelets on the wrists of the child, meant to protect it from bad influences—the painter simply depicts the delight of restful sleep in an impressively sensual manner.
Johann Heinrich Füssli, The Nightmare, 1781
The mystery of sleep—a state of suspended cognition—was particularly intriguing to the artists of the black romance period. Swiss-born painter, Füssli is a prominent representative of this genre. His portrayal of a nightmare is especially famous because of the atmospheric intensity with which it blurs the boundaries between apparent reality and eerie vision. A woman dressed in innocent white cannot defend herself against the demon who sits heavily on her chest and looks challengingly at the viewer. The mixture of fear and desire, sensuality and calm, caused controversy when the painting was first shown in 1782. But the iconography of the dark dream creature carries a legacy to this day.
Gustave Courbet, The Hammock, 1844
Courbet’s painting of a woman resting outside also carries underlying messages. At first glance, the subject looks romantically peaceful. But, at second glance, it becomes apparent that the woman is vulnerable and about to fall out of the shaky hammock. The arm angled over her head indicates there’s no possibility for rescue; her dreamlike slumber will soon be unpleasantly disrupted. Therefore, many interpret the image as a symbol of idealized romance being replaced by pragmatic realism—a notion that Courbet is known for portraying.
Fast forward to the 21st century where modern artists are still inspired by sleep. In a new series, photographers Miguel Hahn and Jan-Christoph Hartung depict sleep in unusual locations. Several of their photographs will be shown at the Technogel Sleeping Experience Center in Berlin starting 4 May 2017.
Regardless of how sleep is staged in a work of art, this nightly ritual has been a source for the imagination for centuries and continues now and into the future. And, while we spend much of our lives asleep, understanding the science of sleep is still a work in progress.
At Technogel we rely on research to help you rest calmly and peacefully, so you wake up inspired every day. We work with renowned research institutions, and we collaborate with artists and inventors, all with the goal of promoting physical and mental well-being that makes it easier to live life to its fullest.