Similar to walking into a museum and absorbing the beauty of fathomless creativity, entering the dream state also initiates an experience of unexpected images. In both cases, we can be carried away by the pictures to a place far from a zone we control.
Dreams have always fascinated us. From Medieval times to the early days of photography, depictions of the sleeping mind have have always resonated with viewers of art.
Not surprisingly, artists have often favored dreams as almost characters in their painting, usually depicting dream sequences as separated parts of the image.
In Medieval art, dreams were often interpreted with religious meanings and were connected to a higher state of mind. And thus in dreams, people were able to see and be inspired by the heavens to fulfill a mission. Because dreams were not part of a sinful body, they were seen as closer to the truth than the reality of everyday life.
Different ways to capture the seemingly invisible dreams came with, for example, romanticism. Fascinated by nightmares, artists freed themselves to become storytellers through dreamy scenes.
But whatever the approach, the art, like dreams, has the power to move us and inspire.
“Legend of St Francis: 3. Dream of the Palace” by Giotto, between 1297 and 1299. According to the legend, during Assisi’s war against Perugia in 1202, St. Francis saw in his dream a palace full of military arms and walls covered with shields with crosses, all that given into his possession. After the dream, he made a decision to go on a military mission again. ( Public Domain)
“The Dream of Joachim” by Giotto, completed in 1305. In a vision, an angel appears to tell Joachim that his wife Anna will bear a child, Mary. ( Public Domain)
“The Knight’s Dream” by Antonio de Pereda, circa 1655. A young hidalgo dozes in his chair, dreaming about an angel. The banner the angel carries reads in Latin: “Aeterna pungit et occident volt,” meaning: “Eternally it stings and kills swiftly.” The “it” refers to the bow and arrow depicted in the middle of the banner. The moralistic message, typical for Baroque era, reminds us of our mortality. ( Public Domain)
“The Shepherd’s Dream,” from “Paradise Lost” by Heinrich Fussli, 1793. Inspired directly by the Milton’s poem, the painter depicts fairies bewitching a passing shepherd in his dream. Queen Mabs, the bringer of nightmares, is sitting in the right corner as if waiting to interfere with the shepherd’s sleep. ( Public Domain)
“Jacob’s Dream” by Nicolas Dipre, 1495-1531. As the Book of Genesis describes, the tired shepherd Jacob rests at Haran or Bethel, as he later names it. He sees a ladder connecting the earth with heaven. ( Public Domain)
“The Artist’s Dream” by George H. Comegys, 1840. The artist, with his head down on a table in his studio, perhaps seeking divine intervention, is having a vision of great artists from the past, such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael Michelangelo, and others. ( Public Domain)
A verger’s dream: Saints Cosmas and Damian performing a miraculous cure by transplantation of a leg, attributed to the Master of Los Balbases, circa 1495, oil painting. ( Welcome Images, CC BY 4.0)
“The Dream of Pilate’s Wife” by Gustave Doré, circa 1870. According to Matthew in the New Testament, the unnamed wife of Pontius Pilate sent a message to her husband asking for Jesus Christ’s release. ( Public Domain)
“Vision of Knight” by Raphael, 1504. According to one of a few different interpretations, the two female figures are allegories of values that ideal knight should combine: a word as a soldier’s weapon, and a scholar’s book and flower as a symbol of a lover. ( Public Domain)
“Emperor Godaigo” by Ogata Gekkō, 1890. The emperor is dreaming of ghosts in his palace. ( Public Domain)
Jose de Ribera’s version of “Jacob’s Dream” from 1693. Here, the ladder is demostrated as a bright stroke of light. (Public Domain)
“The Orphans Dream,” 1855–1865, by James Elliott. ( Rijks Museum)
“De Droom,” circa 1520–1562, by Antonio Salamanca. The allegorical painting depicts a sinful dream of a young man, interrupted by an angel from heaven, blowing a trumpet in his ear and called him to order. ( Rijks Museum)
“Adoration of the Name of Jesus (The Dream of Philip II)” by El Greco, 1579. The Pope, the Doge of Venice, and Philip II are shown kneeling in adoration of the name of Jesus (IHS), which was believed to have power over infidels. The picture probably commemorates the League’s victory over the Turks at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, which was led by Philip II’s brother Don Juan. Heretics are shown being swallowed by a monstrous beast, symbolizing hell. ( Public Domain)
“A Child Dreams of the Passing of Time,” 17th century, by Boetius Adamsz Bolswert. ( Public Domain)
“The Dream of King Nebuchadnezzar,” 10th century, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg. According to the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, asked Daniel to interpret his dream. Daniel explained a statue as a series of kingdoms, each less glorious than other. Nebuchadnezzar is a king of a gold and by God’s will become a king of Babylon. ( Public Domain)
“Jacob’s Dream,” 1660–1680, by Ary de Vois. The Bible recounts how one night Jacob lay down on a stone to sleep. He dreamt that he saw a ladder reaching up to heaven with God’s angels going up and down. When he awoke, Jacob vowed to use the stone to build an altar in that place, which he called Bethel (“House of God”). ( Rijks Museum)
God comes to Solomon in a dream and imparts great wisdom to him. The year unknown. ( NYPL)
“A peace dream of Eastertime” by Keppler, 1899. (Library of Congress)
“Way down upon the Swanee Ribber,” 1893, by Richard Norris Brooke. ( NYPL)
“Sleeping Apollo, Muses and Fama” by Lorenzo Lotto. ( Public Domain)
“The Jockey’s Dream” by Currier & Ives, 1880. ( Public Domain)
“Yume no ukihashi,” or “The Bridge of Dreams” by Utagawa Toyokuni, 1854. ( Public Domain)
“Dream-land,” painted by C.D. Weldon, etched by S.J. Ferris, 1883. ( Library of Congress)