Undergraduate Degree




DD8004 The Fantastic in Western Visual Art

[Lectures: 39 hours; Pre-requisites: NIL; Academic Unit: 3.0]




Academic Unit


3 AU

Course Description


Learning Objective

To introduce to the student the key figures, themes, ideas, movements and histories of ‘fantastic’ art.


The course traces the milestones of the ‘fantastic’ in European art. Beginning with a look at fantastic subject matters in painting from the late Middle Ages onwards, students will consider the different contexts in which artists were driven to depict fantasy: the marvellous, the irrational and the horrific. After reflecting upon examples from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, (Hieronymus Bosch, William Blake, Francisco y Goya among others) and the nineteenth-century French Symbolists, students will focus upon the two most significant twentieth-century movements concerned with the irrational: Dada and Surrealism. Analysis on the notions and the artistic production related to the Fantastic and Magic Realism will complete the study of the twentieth-century. Finally, the work of the latest generation of artists to follow this tradition will also be explored.


Course Outline





Lecture: Definition of the Fantastic 

Case study: Svetan Todorov’s theory on the “fantastic”


Northern Renaissance 

Lecture: The Persistence of the Medieval Horror 

Case study: Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Albrecht Dürer


Francisco de Goya and the Early Romanticism

Lecture: The Black Paintings of Francisco de Goya

Case Study: Goya’s Los Caprichos


Symbolism I

Lecture: Romantic Precursors of Symbolism

Case study: Henry Fuseli and William Blake


Symbolism II

Lecture: Post-Romanticism and Parnassianism

Case study: Arnold Böcklin, Gustave Moreau and Fernand Khnopff


Symbolism III

Lecture: Decadentism: The Flowers of Evil 

Case study: Félicien Rops, Franz Stuck and Carlos Schwabe



Lecture: Dadaism and the Mechanical Imagery 

Case study: Man Ray and Hannah Höch


Surrealism I

Lecture: Framing Unconsciousness 

Case study: Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy


Surrealism II

Lecture: Metaphysics and The Question of Representation

Case study: Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte


Surrealism III 

Lecture: Surrealism in Film and Photography 

Case Study: Luis Buñuel, Hans Bellmer and Philippe Halsman


Fantastic Realism

Lecture: Vienna School of Fantastic Realism 

Case Study: Ernst Fuchs and Rudolf Hausner


Magic Realism

Lecture: Reconciliation between the Fantastic and the Real

Case Study: Frida Khalo


The Fantastic in the Twenty-First Century 

Lecture: The Legacy of the Western Fantastic Iconography 

Case Study: Jake and Dinos Chapman, and Matthew Barney

Learning Outcome

The student will be familiar with the many ways that ‘fantastic’ art manifested in art history. They will be able to place its key themes and ideas into a rational and relevant context.

Student Assessment

  1. Final Assessment: 40%
  2. Continuous Assessment: 60% (of which at least 15% is participation)

Continuous assessment components may include:

  • Exercises and projects
  • Individual, group and team-based assignments​


    1. Robert-Jones Philippe, Beyond Time and Place: Non-Realist Painting in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press
    2. James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575, Pearson Education
    3. Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, The British Museum Press and Princeton University Press
    4. Andrew Schulz, Goya's Caprichos : Aesthetics, Perception and the Body, Cambridge University Press
    5. Martin Myrone, Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination, Tate Publishing.
    6. Holliday T Day, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987, Indianapolis Museum of Art
    7. Briony Fer, David Batchelor, Paul Wood (Eds), Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, Yale University Press