Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath: The Sacrificial Rites of Hermann Nitsch.

Not many artists have the reputation of receiving several court trials and three prison terms for their work. At age seventy-two, Austrian born artist, writer, and composer Hermann Nitsch reigns king of blood-drenched, ritualistic art performance, and has been awing/shocking crowds with his religious, pornographic, and grotesque work since the early 1960s. He has a knack for incorporating slaughtered animals, red fruits, music, dance, and active participants to satirize religious rites. “He is only holding up a mirror to his detractors’ own hang-ups with religion and the weird, antiquated ceremonies inherent to their beliefs.” (Vice) Do not confuse his views on religion, however. In his interview with Vice Magazine he states, “I am fascinated with religion of every era and every culture. I respect them all, without belonging to any of them. I only have religious feelings for life, nature, the cosmos, and eternity.” Provocation has never been his intention, he says. He is simply fascinated with the intensity of it all; the aesthetic process alone gives him an artistic high. Today, it is often discussed that his work may also exemplify cultures’ fascination with violence, as Nitsch is known to have grown up during World War II. Because of this, he despises politics.

Marking the beginning of his career, roughly around 1960, Nitsch created the Orgien Mysterien Theater (which roughly translates as “Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries” or “The Orgiastic Mystery Theater”). Here, he creates “performances wherein spectators are encouraged to take leave of their senses and become participants themselves, as the beautiful, young actors, smiling and decked out all in white, butcher animals and handle entrails, blood and semen, eviscerating pigs, lambs and oxen just as swans drink out of pools of blood, creating aesthetic tableaux beautifying the horror of death, before the whole ordeal celebrates life with the eating of the animals at a feast towards the end.” (TG)

A blindfolded man was crucified in front of a bisected bull while several naked men stabbed him with giant spears as blood spewed from his mouth during action 122 at the Burgtheater, Vienna, 2005.

Forerunner of the Viennese Aktionists, he has helped to define a new genre of art. “Hermann Nitsch’s work draws parallels between religion and the ritualistic spiritualism of creativity. Heavily entrenched in ancient philosophy and a dissident, questioning Christian theology, he actively seeks catharsis through pain and compassion, a rigorously disciplined quest for ethereal release and enlightenment through an embracing of primal instinct and ancient sacrament.” (Saatchi)

Hermann Nitsch,"Orgies-Mysteries-Theater".

With 100+ performances and exhibitions, and features in galleries, museums, magazines, and universities all around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum, Museum University of Yale, Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University, and countless others internationally, Hermann Nitsch has certainly earned his title of world-renowned artist.

Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries 17 (1998)

Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries 15 (1998)
Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries 14 (1998)

Schüttbild (Poured Picture)


Splatter Painting

Blood Orgies: Hermann Nitsch in America; Edited and Introduced by Aaron Levy

With church bells ringing, naked bodies staging crucifixions, the disembowelment of animals, Hermann proclaims his 100th performance, the Six-Day Play, to be his pinnacle piece. It is his take on the story of creation. Go here, under ‘Show Selected Media’ to view clips of Day Six’s ritual, along with his many other Aktionen projects.

Check out these links to view interviews, media, and more information on Hermann Nitsch:

Credit: Portrait photo by Sven Eisermann
Header photo Die erste heilige Kommunion (The First Holy Communion) by Hermann Nitsch.

Previous post


Next post

Mouth of the Beast...
Cultus Sabbati Video
Directed by Shazzula

The Author



Aspiring gallerist, among many other things, Amy is navigating her way through the cracks of the world, traveling by silent storms. Current resident of Virginia, US, she wishes to plant her feet on the many blackened soils of the earth; diving into the bowels of her majesty and exploring the anthropological depths of the human psyche through film, audible vibrations, performance, and tactile—seeking to unveil and enrich the beastly feminine Divine along the way.

Leave a Reply

7 Comments on "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath: The Sacrificial Rites of Hermann Nitsch."

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
PJ Superior
Akin to all shared observation, hailing this mystic literalist ritual performance art “satirical” says more about the critic than the art itself, a hindrance of an introduction and a quality imposed by an audience distracted by the conditioning of sarcasm. It’s all just a joke, the “Why so serious?” puke of a tagline still reigning through pop culture just ignored enough now as to seem the objective of centuries’ artistic reflection. This dismissal in guise of awe with that shared feeling of accomplishment, “yeah stick it to ‘the man'” turned into the shared worship of sex and murder, that is… Read more »

fantastica obra de arte


Fantastic looking images


Hello there, Amy! Sweet to find you here and nice selection of articles indeed.

autoplay=”false” should normally get rid of the problem.

However, these are hotlinked from his site and that causes its own problems. You in case you haven’t asked Hermann for permission to hotlink, I would really encourage you to do so or maybe find YouTube videos of his Aktionen which would fix the bug and the hotlinking errors?


– S.


Hey, all the videos in this article auto-play and try to autodownload themselves at the same time.