A Study of the Visual Mythology of Women’s Bodies
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.