Exhibition | Witches and Wicked Bodies

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 19, 2013

Press release (10 December 2012) from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art:

Witches and Wicked Bodies
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 27 July — 3 November 2013

WitchesOnlineVersionThe fascination for witches, which has gripped many Western artists from the sixteenth century to the present, will be the subject of a major new exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art this summer. Witches and Wicked Bodies, will delve into the dark and cruel origins of the classic image of the witch, and demonstrate how the now familiar old woman on a broomstick is just one part of a rich and very diverse visual tradition.

Witches and Wicked Bodies will highlight the inventive approaches to the depiction of witches and witchcraft employed by a broad range of artists over the past 500 years, with striking examples by famous names such as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Salvator Rosa, Francisco de Goya, Henry Fuseli, John William Waterhouse and William Blake. The selection will also include more recent interpretations of the subject, by twentieth-century and contemporary artists including Paula Rego, Kiki Smith and Edward Burra. The exhibition has been curated by the National Galleries of Scotland with artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge and will contain major works on loan from the British Museum; the National Gallery (London); the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Tate; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, to be shown alongside key images from the Royal Scottish Academy and the Galleries’ own collections.

John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We look to offer our public a world-class yet very distinctive programme of exhibitions. I believe that this is the first time that witchcraft across the ages has been the subject of a major art exhibition in the UK and we are delighted to be partners with the British Museum on this truly fascinating and compelling show.”

Europe has a long history of witchcraft and the persecution of witches was particularly widespread in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, accounting for thousands of deaths of women and even children. Prints and drawings dating from this period will form a key part of the exhibition, showing how the advent of the printing press gave artists as well as writers the means to share ideas, myths and fears about witches from country to country. Engravings by Albrecht Dürer will be shown alongside woodcuts by Hans Baldung Grien and many other printmakers including Bruegel and de Gheyn.

Paul Sandby, The Flying Machine from Edinburgh

Paul Sandby, The Flying Machine from Edinburgh in One Day Performed by Moggy Mackenzie at the Thistle and Crown, etching, 1762. The print satirizes Scottish emigration to England.
Photograph: National Galleries of Scotland

The exhibition will focus on six key themes. The centrepiece of Witches’ Sabbaths and Devilish Rituals is one of the most famous images of witches of all time – Salvator Rosa’s Witches at their Incantations on loan from the National Gallery (London). Unnatural Acts of Flying will include the origins of the image of the witch as an old woman riding a broomstick against a night sky, but rather than the cloaked figure wearing a pointy hat that has become so widely known to adults and children alike, this section features more sinister images of flying witches attending black masses.

In Magic Circles, Incantations and Raising the Dead, visitors will encounter glamorous witches cooking up spells as in Frans Francken’s 1606 painting Witches’ Sabbath. This powerful section also includes the luscious 1886 painting by John William Waterhouse, The Magic Circle. 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 works will 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.

Daniel Gardner, "The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer)," pastel on paper, 1775 (London: NPG)

Daniel Gardner, The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer), pastel on paper, 1775 (London: NPG)

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.

The exhibition has been organised in partnership with the British Museum, whose loans will include William Blake’s magnificent drawing The Whore of Babylon which will be shown alongside the National Galleries’ own Blake drawing, once thought to depict Hecate, the classical witch of the crossroads. 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 who ‘bewitch’ unwary men.

Writing for The Guardian (22 March 2013), Charlotte Higgins provides a useful introduction»

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From ACC Distribution:

Deanna Petherbridge, Witches & Wicked Bodies (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2013), 112 pages, ISBN: 978-1906270551, £15.

imageWitches & Wicked Bodies provides an innovative, rich survey of images of European witchcraft from the sixteenth century to the present day. It focuses on the representation of female witches and the enduring stereotypes they embody, ranging from hideous old crones to beautiful young seductresses. Such imagery has ancient precedents and has been repeatedly re-invented by artists over the centuries, to include scenes with corpses and cauldrons, caverns and kitchens, and the dead being raised through demonic or satanic rites – all inversions of an ordered and religious social world.

Petherbridge introduces this fascinating subject and includes catalogue entries on each of the exhibited works. The illustrations primarily feature drawings and prints as well as a group of important paintings. A wide range of artists is represented including Dürer, Goya, Fuseli, Blake, Burra and Rego.

Deanna Petherbridge CBE is an artist, curator and writer. Her book The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (Yale University Pres)s, was published June 2010. She was Visiting Professor of Drawing at the University of the Arts London from 2009 to 2012 and was Professor of Drawing at the Royal College of Art from 1995 to 2001 where she launched the Centre for Drawing Research. Between 2002 and 2006 Petherbridge held a post as Arnolfini Professor of Drawing at the University of the West of England, Bristol and a two year Research Professorship at the University of Lincoln from 2007 to 2009.

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