Object Image

Witches at their Incantations

Beneath a pitch-dark sky, bizarre and terrifying magical spells are being cast. Monstrous figures, some of them naked, are arranged as if on a stage set, illuminated by scattered pools of light.

In the centre, one witch smokes the corpse of a criminal that hangs from a withered tree while her companion cuts its toenails. In front of them, naked witches use a wax effigy to cast a love spell; another, surrounded by a catalogue of magical aids, stirs a cauldron. On the extreme left, two men exhume a corpse and force it to sign a document while away to the right, a swaddled infant is held above the gaping jaws of a monster.

This macabre scene evokes a witches' sabbath, a gathering where the devil was worshipped. Salvator Rosa developed an interest in the supernatural while working in Florence in the 1640s and probably painted this remarkable picture around 1646.

Credit: Bought, 1984

c. 1646
Oil on canvas
72.0 x 132.0cm
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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National Gallery