Seasons of the Witch

Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre Witches Sabbath)1798
Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre (Witches Sabbath) 1798

The figure of the witch has haunted many an artists work, from the strange and disturbing phantasmagorias of Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien at the time when the Early Modern witch trials were sweeping across large swathes of Europe to the feminist re-envisionings of Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Alison Blickle.

The archetypal image of the witch created in the Early Modern period is of a women, alternatively a hideous crone or a beautiful temptress, engaging in nocturnal flights upon enchanted broomsticks or diabolical animals to attend Sabbaths presided over by the Devil in animal form, where they participate in sexual orgies and blood rites. This delirious but potent fantasy contributed to the hysteria that resulted in around 50,000 executions between 1424 to 1785. Even after the witch craze abated she lingered in art as a femme fatale in the 19th Century, only to be reborn and recast in spectacular fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries as an unlikely heroine and High Priestess of a new religion.

Below is a brief tour of pictorial representations across the centuries from the 16th to the 21st that highlights the spell that the witch and her craft has cast across cultures and periods.

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37 thoughts on “Seasons of the Witch

  1. What a collection. The powerful female – to revered or feared, mostly feared and scapegoated for all the crises and catastrophes of culture throughout the ages. Wonderful art and an interesting summary!

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    1. The witch is a powerful figure in the imagination. The works from the 20th Century onwards are all by women artists to give some balance to the fantasy. On a purely artistic note the witch made a great subject: character, nudity, terror. Instead of painting something beautiful the witch enabled to approach the sublime in the sense of Edmund Burke.

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      1. It really is difficult to find a favorite in such a diverse group. I am drawn to the pieces by Goya and Hans Baldung Grien though. The witches in all the pieces are ‘beautiful’ certainly sexual. Sublime in the sense of Edmund Burke: beauty not easily measured you mean? An otherworldly standard or I should say no standard at all.

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      2. Burke’s theory of the sublime was that any art or literature that produced a sensation of fear, terror or awe, these deep seated primordial emotions was sublime and struck a deeper resonance than the beautiful. Kind of a fire runner to Nietzsche’s theory of the Apollonian vs the Dionysian.

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  2. A superb text on the history of Witches past and present. I find Hecate by William Blake to be the most fascinating of these artworks. It is enchanting in that one wonders why there are three women huddled and what they represent. I also adore Donovan’s Season of the Witch, perfect listening while browsing this enchanting sequence of art.

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    1. Thank you Miss Heart. I would find it hard to pick a favourite especially as several artists are among Cakelands regulars. The Goyas are astonishing, painted under commission they seem to feed directly into the Black Paintings. Hecate the Goddess of magic and the underworld was often portraited as having a triple aspect, which in itself is a common motif with magical females ie the fates. The Zurn drawing is also has a triple face. The song had to feature. Thanks again.

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  3. Well, here I am. And what a start to my visit: Goya’s Pinturas Negras. Some of my favorite paintings, especially those of the Quinta del Sordo. I too have written poems for May the Cecond (el dos de mayo) and May 3 (el tres de mayo). Clearly, I must re-post them and join you in a Goya Fest. In fact, I’ll do that right now and come back later. Thanks for the wake up and back to reality call!

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    1. We both agree that Goya is superlative and he is one of my absolute favourites. Last of the Old Masters and first of the moderns. The Pinturas Negras and a lot of late Goya begs so many questions and is still shocking in the depths that it plumbs. Look forward to the Goya fest and good to see you back Roger!

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      1. Just the dos and tres de mayo and my poetic takes on them. The new poems are from my latest collection Time-Spirits (Zeitgeist) on which I am working daily. I think it is ready to publish. Pretty close, anyway. Maybe next week.

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  4. Ooh Cake, what a fantastic post!! I love it! I was familiar with most of the classics, but had not seen the work of Alison Blickle and Kiki Smith. (Smith reminds me a bit of Marc Chagall, one of my favorites.) I have always loved the 1910 Penot, of the witch on the broom. These are all great! The Donovan song, too, is excellent. As we have just celebrated Walpurgis Night, my favorite Sabbat, this comes at a wonderful time! Thanks for this tribute 🙂

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    1. My pleasure. I have always been fascinated by the craft and I am a keen student of the Early Modern trials and the various depictions of witches through the ages. Blickle is a recent find, I love her work it’s beautiful. Smith has a lot of drawings of women with animals. So glad you enjoyed Christine.

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      1. Yes, this is really great. The Early Modern period is fascinating, and horrifying — witches got a worse rep then, mostly because of religious fanaticism. Thanks for introducing these artists!

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      2. My pleasure…I am aiming to be one of the best sites on surrealist/erotic/esoteric art…a wee bit niche but someone has to do it. The whole witch trial period is like some dreadful fever dream.

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      3. You ARE definitely the best site I have found on surrealist/ erotic/ esoteric art! You are my go to art site, and I learn so much! 🙂

        A fever dream is a good description of the Burning Times. Very unfair. It was like all of Europe went crazy and then the American colonies followed suit! Thankfully they realized their insanity, and it came to an end — although, as I am sure you know — witchcraft remained illegal in England until the 1950s!

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      4. Thank you Christine you are very kind. i do try. I am actually surprised that I have managed to keep it going for so long as I didn’t realise that so much art had occult links (though I may stretch sometimes in this respect).
        Unfair doesn’t really cover it when you consider the Spanish Inquisition was a moderating influence. I mean if the Inquisition is saying ‘hold on lads I think you are going too far and you’re a bit out of order’ then you think you would stop and pause for a moment.
        The Witchcraft act was repealed in 1953. Nowt as strange as folk.


  5. That Marjorie Cameron ink piece kind of stuck out. Her eyes and that right leg, very eerie. And of course Goya and his unremarkable style, although the second piece surprised me due to its devastated state. Nice post!

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    1. I might take exception to Goya’s unremarkable style but I am sure that is a typo. The second piece is the pinturas negras that he covered his house with…not necessarily the best canvas to work with. Marjorie Cameron is…Marjorie Cameron… freaky as anything.

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