Now that we’re in the throes of spooky season, we thought it high time we shared some of the Castle’s creepiest collection items. From sinister paintings to a three-legged demonic horse, there’s plenty to discover. Read on to find out more about our top picks…

‘The Casket’, Noel Denholm Davis (1876 – 1950), Nottingham City Museums and Galleries (Located in the Art Gallery)

A painting of a dark haired lady holding a casket
‘The Casket’, Noel Denholm Davis (1876 – 1950), Nottingham City Museum

Primarily a portrait painter, Davis was born in Nottingham, where he studied at the School of Art for five years in the 1890s before moving to the Royal Academy. He worked for a decade in London as a portrait painter but continued to exhibit in Nottingham.[1]

‘The Casket’ shows a picture of a woman (the artist’s wife or daughter) wearing a high-necked black dress and a bead necklace. She is looking straight at the viewer, with a mysterious look on her face. With both hands she holds up a casket, which has an embossed floral design on the lid. Dangling from the box and looped over her left hand are several chains.[2]

This painting made the list because it’s hard to tell whether the subject’s expression is happy or sinister – what do you think?

A painting of three ladies playing cards. One looks embarrassed as she faces the painter.
‘Love’s Oracle’, Albert Ritzberger (1853–1915), Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

‘Love’s Oracle’, Albert Ritzberger (1853–1915), Nottingham City Museums & Galleries (Located in the Art Gallery)

Albert Ritzberger came from a family of teachers and began his career in teaching. He exhibited his first drawings at an art dealership in Linz. His chalk portraits enabled him to study at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule with Ferdinand Laufberger in 1876/77, and then at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Vienna (1879 to 1884) with Heinrich von Angeli.[3]

‘Love’s Oracle’ shows a woman pointing to a card with a heart on it as she reads the fortune of another, who hides her face and smiles. However, something most people miss about the woman is her extra finger! Make sure you look next time you visit the Art Gallery.

A painting of a man escaping ghosts and witches on horseback
‘Tam O’Shanter’, Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863), Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

‘Tam O’Shanter’, Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863), Nottingham City Museums & Galleries (Located in the Art Gallery)

This painting depicting a scene from the Scottish poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns shows Farmer Tam being pursued by witches while galloping home in a gathering storm after an evening of drunken revelry.

Delacroix used loose, expressive brushwork to capture the drama of this figure on horseback pursued by ghostly figures, and it certainly gives us the chills!

Alabaster panel showing St Eloy shoeing a horse possessed of the devil
St Eloy [Eloi] Shoeing a Horse Possessed of the Devil, c.1450

 

St Eloy [Eloi] Shoeing a Horse Possessed of the Devil, c.1450 (Located in Early Nottingham Craft Gallery)

This Alabaster panel shows St Eloy, a 7th-century French bishop worshipped by farriers (blacksmiths who shoe horses), removing the leg of a horse possessed by the devil. Whilst it’s not particularly creepy, the thought of demonic possession is pretty frightening!

Brandreth’s execution block, 1817, on loan by Derby Museums (Located in the Rebellion Gallery)

Jeremiah Brandreth was an unemployed textile worker and suspected Luddite known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’. He led the ill-fated Pentrich

a row of nooses from the Rebellion Gallery
“The Luddites”, Rebellion Gallery, Nottingham Castle

Rebellion, which attempted to overthrow the government. Brandreth and his two companions were convicted of treason and hanged outside Derby prison on 7th November 1817. His dead body was beheaded on this block, which is currently on display at the Castle.

The block serves a stark reminder of the sacrifices ordinary men made in the face of injustice. You can learn about the Luddite’s plight in more depth when you visit the Castle’s Rebellion Gallery.

A brick inscribed with graffiti
Graffiti from a Nottingham Castle prison cell, 1640s

Graffiti from a Nottingham Castle prison cell, 1640s (Located in the Rebellion Gallery)

Inscribed by John Sporwood, a prisoner at Nottingham Castle, this unassuming brick quotes Psalm 143 – a plea for mercy from a sinner. It reads:

‘Enter not into judgement with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified’.

Religion was fundamental to 17th-century life and was a driving force behind the British Civil Wars. The brick reminds us that many ordinary people suffered because of the Civil Wars, some of whom were imprisoned on this very site. An unsettling thought.

A broadsheet with an illustration of three men being hanged. There is a lot of text surrounding the image.
The Nottingham Tragedy!!!, 1st February 1832 (Located in the Rebellion Gallery)

 

The Nottingham Tragedy!!!, 1st February 1832 (Located in the Rebellion Gallery)

This illustrated broadsheet describes the trial and execution of three Nottinghamshire men who set fire to Beeston mill during the 1831 Reform Bill riot. It was suggested, but never proven, that one of them (George Hearson), was also behind the fire that destroyed Nottingham Castle. Hearson’s final letter bitterly declares that he would die ‘a murdered man’.

Broadsheets were given out at executions so that onlookers knew who was due to hang and why. The triple hanging illustrated here took place on the front steps of the Shire Hall, which is now home to the National Justice Museum.

 

 

 

 

Source materials

[1] ‘Artists in Britain Since 1945’ by David Buckman (Art Dictionaries Ltd, part of Sansom & Company)

[2] “The Casket | Art UK”, Artuk.Org, 2021 <https://bit.ly/3ufUm0q> [Accessed 28 September 2021].

[3] “Albert Ritzberger – Artvee”, Artvee, 2021 <https://bit.ly/3lYrZAc >[Accessed 28 September 2021].