Edvard Munch’s The Scream’ was Inspired by a Peruvian Mummy

Edvard Munch’s The Scream’ was Inspired by a Peruvian Mummy
December 20, 2013 Lainie Liberti

Archaeology Inspiring Art

Edvard Munch and archaeology aren’t two names you’d normally find side-by-side in an article. Right now, the art world is abuzz combining the two, re-examining the origins of inspiration behind Edvard Munch’s iconic piece ‘The Scream’. Apparently the inspiration leads straight here to Peru, a place Miro and I find highly inspiring. It is believed ‘The Scream’ was inspired by a mummified Chachapoyas warrior, frozen in time with a look of terror.

Writer Arthur Lubow, in an article for the Smithsonian, describes Munch’s iconic piece ‘The Scream’:

“Munch defined how we see our own age — wracked with anxiety and uncertainty. His painting of a sexless, twisted, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, re-created a vision that had seized him as he walked one evening in his youth with two friends at sunset.”

(Photo: Alessandro Currarino/ El Comercio)

(Photo: Alessandro Currarino/ El Comercio)

Is is possible ‘The Scream’ is indeed inspired by Peru’s archeology?
In college, I studied the art of many contemporary masters including the works of Picasso, Munch, Kandinsky, Klee and of course Miro. Many artists drew inspiration from the naïve art of the past including African sculptures, native textiles, and indigenous ceramics to create many of the world’s top modern sculptures and paintings known today. But I had never read of any significant works being directly influenced through archeology. Once again, I am reminded how the world isn’t broken into subjects and through exposure to the richness of life, inspiration can come from anywhere.

One of the reasons I’m such a supporter of natural learning (unschooling or worldschooling) through travel, is the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of stimulations including environmental, cultural and traditional nuances that become life-long inspirations. You just never know what will inspire. Who would of thought that an ancient Peruvian warrior would become the inspiration for a popular seminal art piece?

A Popular Mummy

‘The Scream’ is now one of the most reproduced and most iconic pieces of art in the world, and art historians believe it was based on the mummy of this warrior which was discovered 130 years ago. The mummy was found near the Utcubamba River and then taken to Paris where it was displayed at the Ethnographic Exchange Museum in a popular exhibit.

Wayne V. Anderson, a renowned art historian, declared that the mummy had inspired the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, which was later confirmed by Stefan Ziemendorff, an investigator who discovered a number of sketches of the mummy. Robert Rosenblum, also a respected art historian, then suggested that Munch’s famous artwork was also inspired by the mummy.

So there you have it. 

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch was born in Norway in December 1863 and was the son of a doctor who served in the military. He is known for his disturbing Expressionist paintings, and an artist who incorporates bold colors and brush strokes into his work. Munch revealed that the inspiration behind ‘The Scream’ was based on a past event in his life when he was walking with friends. The piece of art is based on the anxiety he felt this day when he saw that the sky had become engulfed in fiery red flames, which triggered feelings of panic and despair in him. Astronomers now believe that the red sky was the result of a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world. Debris thrown into the atmosphere from an eruption in Indonesia caused the sky to turn angry and red throughout Europe in late 1883 and early 1884.

It is now believed that Munch was inspired by a mummy that he had seen at an exhibition in Paris. The artist used the mummy as a way to recreate the feelings of fear and dread that he felt when the sky turned red. Since his death, ‘The Scream’ has become one of the most famous paintings in art history, and one that still triggers debate today. This piece of art has also influenced Western popular culture, most notably in the movie Scream, where the mask of the killer is based on the frightening image in Munch’s work. Other works painted by Munch include ‘The Dead Mother’, ‘The Dance of Life’, ‘Self-portrait with Burning Cigarette’, and ‘Ashes’. ‘The Scream’ was on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art until April 2013.

Chachapoyas in located in Peru, near the Amazon river, and is famous for its ruins of the Kuelap Fortress and several mummies of powerful warriors. Miro and I have not visited the site yet, but it’s on our must-see list for 2014. Now, we have another reason to visit the Chachapoyas region, to see one of the warriors that is now thought to be the inspiration behind ‘The Scream’, the painting that continues to fascinate and frighten people from all over the world.


The Scream was inspired by a Peruvian mummy



  1. Alfred Schrader 10 years ago

    Edvard Munches genius use or red hues to counter-pose the drama of The Scream tells alot about Edvard the man.

  2. Tanya Wolfe 6 years ago

    This is a great article, I learned quite a few things from it, thank you

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.