Witches through history – in pictures

From the 1400s to the Victorian period and beyond, witches have captured the artistic imagination. Often portrayed as monstrous hags with devil-worshipping followers, they have featured in prints, drawings and objects as an inversion of a well-ordered society and the natural world. Now, the artistic representation of witches through history is explored in a new exhibition at the British Museum

The Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, 1785 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Now open to the public, ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ explores the origins of the traditional image of the witch, and considers how this changed as artists reacted to public attitudes and current events.

Co-curated by the artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge, the exhibition is adapted from her book, Witches and Wicked Bodies, which was first published in 2013 to accompany a display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Works from the British Museum collections are displayed alongside loans from the V&A, Ashmolean, Tate Britain and the British Library.

Here we reveal some of the most intriguing items to feature in the exhibition, which runs until 11 January 2015:

They spin finely (Hilan Delgado), Los Caprichos, plate 43, 1799, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), etching, aquatint, drypoint and burin. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

The Witches’ Sabbath, 1510. Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545), Chiaroscuro woodcut, 371x254mm, orange-brown. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

Witchcraft scene c1780: three nude figures in a darkened interior, including one at the right holding a recumbent skeleton by the shoulders, and a female figure at the left with her left hand holding an open book and her right a bone above a flame. Inscribed: 'Goya', attributed to Luis Paret y Alcazar. Pen and ink with watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum
 

A Witch Riding on a Dragon, 1643-1671, Jan de Bisschop (1628–1671). Pen ink and brown wash. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

The Siren Vase – pottery, red-figured stamnos – depicting the ship of Odysseus passing the Sirens, c480 BC to 470 BC. Attributed to The Siren Painter, Greece. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

A witch riding backwards on a goat, with four putti [a figure depicted as a chubby male child] – two carrying an alchemist's pot, a thorn apple plant, c1500, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Engraving. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

The Witches’ Rout (The Carcass), an engraving depicting a witch-riding skeleton, c1520, Agostino Veneziano (c1490-c1540). © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

To find out more about the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition, which runs until 11 January 2015, click here.

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