Earlier this month, I had the privilege of accompanying Willow C Winsham to the British Museum to view their Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition. As a blogger on all thing witchy, weird and wonderful, Willow was certainly in her element and as one who has always enjoyed the more esoteric side of things, I had a wonderful time too. It was particularly lovely to see some choice items of Georgian art with a witchcraft theme on show, perfect for me!
The exhibition gathers drawings, prints and some original literature and pottery from the British Museum's own collection, as well as a number of other institutions and private collectors. It traces the depiction of witches in art from the Renaissance to the Victorian era and features works by iconic artists including Goya, Rossetti and Delacroix.
In the evocatively lit gallery one becomes immersed in images that have become part of our folklore. Here witches ride on broomsticks and stir heavy iron cauldrons, there demonic women tempt pious men, animals spit and hiss in the thrall of their mistresses and the devil himself leers out of the pages of texts intended as a moral warning to the curious.
It was a thrill to see works by Dürer, so familiar from years of reproduction, and trace the earliest depictions of witches from tempting beauties to hook-nosed hags who have become the familiar Halloween costumes of the twenty first century. The exhibition also tells the stories of witchcraft's place in history through the ages, addressing the matter of criminality, punishment and hysteria that so often accompanied reports of sorcery. There is a strong focus on the biblical origins of witch myths such as Lilith and those of ancient history, including Medea.
It is fascinating to watch as these mythical figures of temptation go full circle through Goya's hideous hags and emerge into the nineteenth century as glamorous figures of mystery once. This is an exhibition that tells a story and one that I heartily recommend; if you are in London before the exhibition closes on 11th January 2015, don't miss it!