Witches and Wicked Bodies @ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Review by Cathy O'Brien | 22 Nov 2013
  • Witches and Wicked Bodies

Witches and Wicked Bodies is an incredible exhibition that showcases the evolution of the witch, through five hundred years of artistic expression. Drawings, paintings and – perhaps most notably – prints reveal an artistic obsession with the mysterious, grotesque, cruel and even humorous world of witchcraft. The exquisite detail involved in each tiny print completely absorbs you into this transfixing, and once terrifying time.

From saggy breasted hags casting spells around cauldrons, to the wickedly naked; stealing babies and riding monstrous creatures to black mass, each image, carefully curated into collections that span six rooms of the gallery, builds upon the genuine fear, suspicion and mistrust that cut such a dramatically destructive and violent path through our history. Large painted works accompany these prints, introducing an intoxicating mixture of both beauty and extreme ugliness in a relief of colour.

A collection of original books are also displayed, which, aided by the invention of the printing press, helped spread the fear further still, deeply ingraining the traditional image of the witch in our culture. The final room examines this traditional image in a contemporary context, with artists such as Kiki Smith and Paula Rego providing fresh perspectives on the theme.

It is hard to imagine the fear sparked by these now kitsch Halloween icons; to think of the witch as anything other than a warty old women in black, riding a broomstick. This exhibition allows the viewer to track where the stereotypical image came from - to glimpse the past, as did those who recorded it at the time. With pieces from renowned artists such as Henry Fuseli, Albrecht Durer, Francisco de Goya and William Blake, this is truly a masterful collection.