Delving into the world of Witches and Wicked Bodies through depictions in art is the theme of a major new exhibition which opened over the weekend at the National Gallery Of Scotland. The show gives insight into how witches and witchcraft have been interpreted by artists over the past 500 years and includes works by Albrecht Dürer, Francisco de Goya and William Blake, plus pieces by 20th century artists such as Paula Rego and Kiki Smith.
Major works on loan from the British Museum, the National Gallery (London), Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as works from the Galleries’ own collections, Witches and Wicked Bodies will be an investigation of extremes, exploring the highly exaggerated ways in which witches have been represented, from hideous hags to beautiful seductresses.
Through 16th and 17th century prints and drawings, learn how the advent of the printing press allowed artists and writers to share ideas, myths and fears about witches from country to country. Witchery and supernatural foul play is explored in this first ever exhibition mounted in the UK. It is a large-scale exhibition dedicated to the depiction of witches in art. Witches & Wicked Bodies and made up of over 80 works chosen by curator artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge.
Witches & Wicked Bodies examines depictions of witches from the late fifteenth century, with extreme representation in painting and sculpture. It is these images that have become associated within our perception of Witches creating vivid associations of hideous Hags and Beautiful Witches’ will include the medusa-like witch with snakes for hair in John Hamilton Mortimer’s drawing Envy and Distraction. This introductory section will also feature unsettling works depicting old crones by Francisco de Goya – the exhibition contains a significant group of works by this major Spanish artist. Some of the images are genuinely frightening and disturbing, whereas others will reveal the negative attitudes towards women in periods when they were very much seen as the second sex.Due to the particular association of women with witchcraft, these workswill highlight the ways in which a largely male-dominated European society has viewed female imperfections, highlighting the concerns created by women laying claim to special powers, or simply behaving in the ‘wrong’ way. The exhibition identifies the crafts of witches activities, which was of particular interest to artists in the past. Nocturnal flights, sinister covens; their gatherings in groups of three and their power to conjure and cast spells.
Works depicting the various appearances of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in ‘Unholy Trinities and The Weird Sisters from Macbeth’, will range from John Martin’s theatrical large-scale painting of Banquo and Macbeth lost on the blasted heath, with the turbulent skies swirling over exaggerated mountains, through to John Runciman’s striking drawing which here is interpreted as the Three Witches conspiring over Macbeth’s fate.
This fascinating thematic survey will culminate with ‘The Persistence of Witches’. Works by Kiki Smith and Paula Rego mark a sea-change with these high-profile contemporary artists’ own take on a subject that had previously been almost exclusively male-dominated. In Smith’s study Out of the Woods, the artist herself explores the expressions and attitudes of the ‘witch,’ whereas Rego’s 1996 work Straw Burning relates to the famous Pendle Witch trials which took place in 1612 in Lancaster, 400 years ago.