Sunday, 10 February 2013

Witchcraft at the National Gallery

I called into the National Gallery this afternoon to escape the rain (but not the crowds, unfortunately) and revisit a few old favourites.

I stumbled upon a painting that somehow I have never seen before - Salvator Rosa's 'Witches at their Incantations' (c1646).

It is a fantastically bizarre and nightmarish nocturnal scene. A body hangs from a tree, incantations are pronounced over a dead body, strange skeletons lurk behind, while a stolen baby is held above a strange creature.

This Salvator Rosa painting probably caught my interest due to all the Goya 'Black Paintings' I've been looking at again recently, after a trip to the Prado a year or so ago. I'm particularly drawn to 'The Fates', below:

The occult rarely seems to feature in painting around this period as a central subject, other than perhaps through literary associations. Henry Fuseli offers plenty though - he claimed his visions were provoked through eating lots of raw pork (not the massive quantities of opium he consumed though...)

In this scene, from 1799, the 'night-hag', or goddess Hecate, who presided over witchcraft, appears to visit the witches of Lapland - all derived from a passage taken from Milton's 'Paradise Lost'.

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