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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Illustrating the Divine Marquis

The Voyeur-Clovis Trouille 1960
The Voyeur-Clovis Trouille 1960

The controversial life and work of the Marquis De Sade, the man so diabolical he was called divine, is still the subject of much debate between apologists who defend him as the apostle of total freedom, and his detractors who view him as a vile libertine possessed with an over-weening feudal sense of entitlement and a virulent misogynist. The question that Simone De Beauvoir nervously asked in 1951, ‘Must We Burn Sade?‘, is still no closer to being answered satisfactorily. But maybe it will never be, as the challenge De Sade lays down is an impossible one.

Regardless of De Sade’s ambiguous position in culture, what is not in doubt is the influence he possessed over the Surrealist movement. Andre Breton name checks the Marquis in the Surrealist Manifesto and he is included in the Pope of Surrealism‘s Anthology of Black Humour (with good reason, De Sade possessed a cruel, sharp wit on occasion), and it seems to have been de rigeur for Surrealists artists to reference and/or illustrate the Divine Marquis.

Below are examples from various artists, many of whom are favourites here. I have written about Toyen on many occasions and have highlighted her repeated rifts on Sadean subjects (see especially At the Chateau La Coste). Her artistic partner Jindrich Strysky provided a cover for Philosophy in the Boudoir, as well as producing the erotic story Emilie Comes to Me in a Dream. Valentine Hugo‘s images have graced several headers of my poems and stories, including several of her illustrations for Eugenie de Franval. The Argentinian artist Leonor Fini was another woman Surrealist who astounded with her frank depiction of erotic subjects and was instinctively drawn to illustrating Juliette. Finally in this post is the deliriously lurid and low-brow paintings of Clovis Trouille, whose entire oeuvre appears to be a psychedelic actualisation on canvas of a Sadean scenario of the mind.

 

 

 

Dreams of Desire 70 (Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Leonor Fini, Italy-Henri Cartier-Bresson 1933
Leonor Fini, Italy-Henri Cartier-Bresson 1933

A sumptuously shimmering erotic photograph by the one of the greats of 20th Century photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson (previously featured in this series, see Dreams of Desire 50 (The Decisive Moment) of the Argentinian Surrealist painter, illustrator, fashion designer and writer, Leonor Fini. A fiercely independent woman renowned for her unorthodox personal life, Fini is credited with being the first woman artist to paint a male nude.