Witches And Wicked Bodies At British Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 40 months ago
Witches And Wicked Bodies At British Museum ★★★☆☆ 3
The Witches’ Rout (The Carcass) c.1520, Agostino Veneziano (c.1490-c.1540), Engraving © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Witches’ Rout (The Carcass) c.1520, Agostino Veneziano (c.1490-c.1540), Engraving © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, 1785, John Raphael Smith, after Henry Fuseli, mezzotint © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, 1785, John Raphael Smith, after Henry Fuseli, mezzotint © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Siren Vase, Pottery: red-figured stamnos. The ship of Odysseus passing the Sirens. C. 480BC-470BC Attributed to The Siren Painter. Greece © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Siren Vase, Pottery: red-figured stamnos. The ship of Odysseus passing the Sirens. C. 480BC-470BC Attributed to The Siren Painter. Greece © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Witchcraft scene, three nude figures in a darkened interior, including figure at right holding a recumbent skeleton by the shoulders, and a female figure on the left holding an open book and a bone above a flame. c.1780, Inscribed: 'Goya.' attributed to Luis Paret y Alcazar, pen and ink with watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Witchcraft scene, three nude figures in a darkened interior, including figure at right holding a recumbent skeleton by the shoulders, and a female figure on the left holding an open book and a bone above a flame. c.1780, Inscribed: 'Goya.' attributed to Luis Paret y Alcazar, pen and ink with watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
A Witch Riding through the Air on a Dragon, Jan de Bisschop (1628–1671), pen ink and brown wash, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
A Witch Riding through the Air on a Dragon, Jan de Bisschop (1628–1671), pen ink and brown wash, © The Trustees of the British Museum.
A Witch Riding Ba0ckwards on a Goat, with four putti, C.1500, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Engraving. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
A Witch Riding Ba0ckwards on a Goat, with four putti, C.1500, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Engraving. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

It's well documented that the classification of 'witch' was once used as an excuse to torture and murder innocent women. But how were these so-called conjurers and sorceresses portrayed in art? The answer can be found at Witches and Wicked Bodies — the exhibition now at the British Museum, after a successful showing in Scotland last year.

Rather than appearing as humans, the witches in this exhibition are highly caricatured. Often it's impossible to tell if subjects are female, save for their sagging and often emaciated breasts. Many witches owe their inspiration to infamous historical figures, including Circe the sorceress from the Odyssey. The three sisters from Macbeth feature in several drawings and prints, too.

Witches can also be found conniving to turn animals against their masters, or otherwise making use of strange and terrifying creatures; in one scene, a witch rides a skeletal beast, making away with a host of captured infants.

Some of the other creatures on display are truly bizarre — from a giant dragon vomiting out demons to a table of devils gathered for a feast of babies' hearts.

The nightmarish scenarios portrayed are clearly the results of imaginations let loose and it seems that some of the artists have set out to create as hellish a vision as possible.

The scale of Witches and Wicked Bodies does mean that works can become a little repetitive, and as pieces are generally quite small it's not easy to see the details in many of the images. Yet the fantastical aspect to this exhibition makes for a captivating display of prints and drawings that is highly engaging and memorably macabre.

Witches and Wicked Bodies is on at Room 90, British Museum until 11 January. Entrance to this exhibition and the museum is free.

Also on at British Museum is their Ming blockbuster.

Last Updated 02 October 2014

Ines

I' afraid I find your opening sentence highly cliché and controversial. An increasing number of studies by witchcraft scholars have shown how irroneaous and simplistic this view is.

Ines

Oops *erroneous