Double, double, toil and trouble…

halloweendouble[1]Theater scene: two women making a call on a witch (the three of them wear theater masks). Roman mosaic from the Villa del Cicerone in Pompeii, now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Naples). Work of Dioscorides of Samos.

787px-Pompeii_-_Villa_del_Cicerone_-_Mosaic_-_MANWitches have a long and elaborate history. Their forerunners appear in the Bible, in the story of King Saul consulting the so-called Witch of Endor. They also crop up in the classical era in the form of winged harpies and screech-owl-like “strixes” – frightening flying creatures that fed on the flesh of babies. (– Alastair Sooke.)

Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen (circa 1472/1477-1533) Saul and the witch of Endor. Date 1526

Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen (circa 1472/1477-1533) Saul and the witch of Endor.
Date 1526

Abandoned by God, desperate to get a reply from Him, Saul summons witches to foretell his future. Scrolls in the skies cite passages from the Bible. In the center, inside a magic circle, a witch is crafting her witchery.

Hans Baldung Grien, The Weather Witches (1523), oil on panel, Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Français : Deux sorcières Date 1523

Hans Baldung Grien, The Weather Witches (1523), oil on panel, Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Français : Deux sorcières Date 1523

Dosso Dossi (1490–1542) Witchcraft (Allegory of Hercules) Date c. 1535

Dosso Dossi (1490–1542) Witchcraft (Allegory of Hercules)
Date c. 1535

After Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Witch of Malleghem. The witch and her assistants prepare to cut stones of foolishness out of the heads of three victims in the foreground; around them gathers a crowd to witness the surgery. 1559 Engraving

The Witch of Malleghem. After Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The witch and her assistants prepare to cut stones of foolishness out of the heads of three victims in the foreground; around them gathers a crowd to witness the surgery. 1559
Engraving

The tumultuous 16th and 17th centuries were ‘golden age’ of witchcraft imagery. Witch trials convulsed Europe, witch-hunts lasting from 1550 to 1630.

“Across Europe, there was the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, fantastic poverty and social change,” says Petherbridge. “Even King James in his text Daemonologie [1597] was asking: why was there such a proliferation of witches? Everybody assumed it was because the world had got so foul that it was coming to an end.” As a result there was an outpouring of brutally misogynistic witchcraft imagery, with artists taking advantage of the invention of the printing press to disseminate material rapidly and widely.(– Deanna Petherbridge, artist and writer.)

Frans Francken the Younger: Witches’ Kitchen, c. 1610:

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Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

A fine recipe from the three Shakespearean witches — an easy meal for the whole family to enjoy.

Theodore Chasseriau, Macbeth and Banquo Encounter the Three WitchesThree Witches, 1855 Postcards, Witchy

Theodore Chasseriau, Macbeth and Banquo Encounter the Three WitchesThree Witches, 1855 Postcards, Witchy

In the 19th Century, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolists were both drawn to the figure of the witch, whom they recast as a femme fatale. But their sinister seductresses arguably belong more to the realm of sexual fantasy than high art.

The Love Potion by  Evelyn De Morgan.

The Love Potion by Evelyn De Morgan. The Love Potion is a 1903 painting by Evelyn De Morgan depicting a witch with a black cat familiar at her feet. According to Elise Lawton Smith, the painting “exhibits a Pre-Raphaelite fascination with medieval subjects and decorative detailing.” The Love Potion pushed the boundaries of society’s expectations of women by “exploring the nature of female authority through the practice of sorcery.”

The Sorceress  by John William Waterhouse
The Sorceress by John William Waterhouse

The Sorceress is a painting by John William Waterhouse completed between 1911 and 1915.

 The Magic Circle (Waterhouse painting) The Magic Circle is an oil painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, created in 1886 by John William Waterhouse. The painting depicts a witch or sorceress drawing a fiery magic circle on the earth to create a ritual space.
The Magic Circle is an oil painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, created in 1886 by John William Waterhouse. The painting depicts a witch or sorceress drawing a fiery magic circle on the earth to create a ritual space.

And a rather non-threatening witches of Jean-Baptiste Monge:

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Many art critics agree that throughout the history of the art having the witchcraft imagery as its subject the one constant is — surprise, surprise! — misogyny (save the sexy Pre-Raphaelites’ sorceresses, obviously, which more comfortably fall into the category of sexual objectification.)Quotation-Charlie-Huston-attention-women-Meetville-Quotes-34875“I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.”
Henry David Thoreau

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