Witches & Wicked Bodies

Goya, Dürer, Delacroix and Blake are amongst the artists tantalizing their viewers with dark fantasies of Medusas, soothsayers, satanists and Jezebels at Scotland’s National Gallery of Modern Art. It’s a ticketed event which requires a bit of a detour from the Fringe roundabout, but a short trip on the free museum shuttle (departing at regular intervals from the National Gallery) is guaranteed to broaden your horizons.

More than just a collection of big names under a sensational title, this exhibition is an important reminder of how artists have often colluded in the demonisation of women throughout history. Preying on suspicions about old and vulnerable figures on the margins of society, illustrations such as those on display reimagined them as grotesque crones, or caricatured them with crude, often sexual innuendo - satisfying both prurient interests and pious indignation. Striking art reveals a history of blame, persecution and exploitation. Even later paintings by Sandys and Blake, who afford their sorceresses an alluring nobility, trade one stereotype for another – gone are the haggard old women, replaced by nubile enchantresses of transgressively seductive beauty.

Etchings are by far the most well-represented medium; their nature makes them well-suited to dissemination, suiting the focus on popular culture. The curators have done an admirable job of illuminating the historical context of these works, enhancing an intriguing display with print artefacts such as a tract by John Hopkins, Britain’s notorious ‘Witch-Finder General’. The result is a psychological inspection of one of Europe’s darker fixations.

The merit of the individual artworks aside, the evolution of witchy tropes is the most fascinating aspect of this exhibition by far. Trendspotting across the centuries is made simple by the layout, which eschews chronology when necessary in order to draw out common themes. Rooms are categorized by motifs such as flying, black Sabbaths and Shakespearian triumvirates.

Informative labelling ensures that we are educated as well as entertained. This exhibition takes a searching look at misogyny in a way that casts a spell over lovers of art and history alike.

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The Blurb

An exploration of how witches and witchcraft have been depicted by artists over the past 500 years, including works by Dürer, Goya and Blake, alongside pieces by 20th-century artists such as Paula Rego and Kiki Smith.

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