Prehistoric and Classical Art
I feel I need to begin my discussion by mentioning that women were once worshiped for their magical abilities. This Minoan Snake Goddess was praised for her closeness to nature through snakes, since snakes slithered on the earth. Snakes also shed their skin, so they are symbols of transformation which became a major theme in witchcraft and magic throughout the world in general. Hekate in Greek mythology was a well-respected and worshiped goddess of witchcraft and magic. She was also thought to be a protector of children, even though witches were later thought to be harmful towards children. Know your roots, kids! The witch was sacred before man tainted her.
Medieval and Renaissance Art
Now we jump to my favorite period. A time when women were thought to be witches simply because they were women. They were burned, drowned, and hung simply for understanding things that men did not. Art from the time reflected men's fears, depicting witches simply as naked women. Their nudity was thought to be a symbol of temptation. A witch could tempt a man into wickedness, and therefore men made their art a warning against them. I wrote a whole article on this in Lone Wolf Magazine (x) if you are interested!
Goya used his witch paintings as a criticism of the tactics used during the Spanish Inquisition. He used them to make fun of the superstitions held by the government that he saw as medieval and wrong. His paintings feature traditional witch imagery: the women are nude and sometimes levitating. Goats represent the devil, proving how ridiculous the fear of the devil is. Goya's witches aren't used to comment on the female sex, but rather the social environment that the artist lived in.
With the Pre-Raphelite movement, artists sought to regain what was "lost" with the Masters of the Renaissance. They thought that the strict formulas and poses for art-making were too restrictive, so they wanted to return to the bright colors and attention to detail of the Italian Quattrocento. Their subjects were often women and the beautiful subjects of literature. They were concerned with nature and oftentimes magic. For this reason, the witch imagery that came from this era marked a switch in the witch identity. No longer were they necessarily evil women to be feared. Instead, they were women close to nature, their beauty and symbolism emphasized. Characters like Morgan Le Fay and Circe were popular to paint, since they represented themes of magic, transformation, and prophecy. Basically, magical women were actually revered during this period of art.
I have a lot of feelings about this woman, so I will try to keep it short. Marjorie Cameron was an Los Angeles-based artist, mostly prominent during the 50s and 60s. She worked with her husband, Jack Parsons, who was a scientist in Pasadena. Together they worked to unlock secrets of the occult. Her art reflected her explorations, as she often drew amazing witchy women and surreal characters.
The Amazing Witchy Artists Today!!!
I follow a lot of witch artists on Instagram and I just had to share a few with you. I love the amazing surge of magic happening within women right now. I mean, it's always been there, but it's just exciting to live in a world where we can share our art and magic so easily. Some favorites are Poison Apple Print Shop (x), Mori Raito (x), and Rebecca Artemisia (x).
This blog (and my life) has no shortage of witch musings. Naturally I have to get extra witchy this time of year, so I wanted to do a post on my favorite subject: witch art! The image of the witch has changed quite a bit throughout time and I find this evolution to be fascinating and indicative of attitudes toward women, sexuality, and nature. I hope this has inspired you just a lil' bit. I could honestly spend my whole life studying the evolution of witches in art (and I just might). Just remember that the "witch" wasn't always the green-skinned lady in The Wizard of Oz. Witches have a colorful history, and their stature as terrifying women alone is enough to make them feminist icons.