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PART OF THE Burning the Yule ISSUE

A Study of the Visual Mythology of Women’s Bodies

An innovative, rich survey of images of European witchcraft, from the sixteenth century to the present day. It focuses on the representation of women 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.

Extract from Witches and Wicked Bodies
By Deanna Petherbridge
Published by the National Galleries of Scotland

Witches carrying out evil deeds (maleficia) have traditionally been depicted in Western art, culture and religion as female figures. Such personifications range from the vicious bird-women harpies of Greek and Roman mythology, who tear at the tender bodies of infants in their cradles, to the Old Testament Witch of Endor, raising ghosts through incantations for purposes of prophecy. Winged harpies and sirens are pictured on vases or ancient sculptural reliefs, just as the beautiful sorceresses Circe and Medea are woven into the narratives of Hesiod, Homer and Ovid. These Greek and Latin epic poems have inspired artists, poets, playwrights and composers of opera throughout Europe for many centuries. In British culture they joined a rich seam of imagery derived from the Arthurian legends, Shakespeare, the Satanic figures of Milton and poetic translations from Goethe. The imagery of sorceresses readily crosses the boundaries of visual art forms but the links between visual representations of witches and literary, poetic and theatrical sources are particularly potent, as revealed in this exhibition.

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