Taschen charts the figure of the witch throughout the history of art

Last night, as the veil between us and the world of the dead was at its thinnest, Taschen fittingly released its new book Witchcraft: The Library of Esoterica tracing the ancient narrative of witchcraft through hundreds of artworks spanning the Renaissance to surrealism. To mark the occasion, editors Pam Grossman and Jessica Hundley walk us through some of their favourite works in the book.

​​Grossman’s first pick is Auguste Rodin’s Witch’s Sabbath, France circa. 1890. “Many are familiar with Rodin’s iconic sculptures like The Thinker and The Kiss,” claims Grossman, “but he also made many loose, far more kinetic-feeling drawings.” Rodin’s sketched witch is a “brazen one”: Grossman helpfully contextualises the piece, explaining to us that there exists a long tradition of artists depicting witches as being “shamelessly libidinous”. Some historians, she continues, have theorised that the classic pairings of witches with their brooms, which many of us may have spotted darting around our skies last night, is “rooted in an old practice of women using broom handles to apply a psychoactive herbal unguent (or “flying ointment”) to their delicate tissues for quick absorption, thus giving themselves a hallucinogenically-induced sensation of flight.” Whether this theory is true or not, Rodin’s witch, thinks Grossman, certainly transmits a sense of “unbridled lust and bewitching abandon.”

Meagan Boyd’s The Coven, United States 2021, is Grossman’s second pick. Instagram artist Meagan Boyd devoted online following look to her signature illustrative style depicting feminine magic. “This painting depicts a coven, or group of witches, who form a circle of protection and celebration,” says Grossman. “They’re dancing naked – or skyclad as it’s sometimes called in the witchcraft community – but these are no objectified nudes.” Grossman continues that she views these witches as having power on their own terms and are “intentionally connecting the divinity of their earthly bodies with the heavenly bodies above”. Grossman points out that it is also an allusion to Matisse’s La Danse with a “spellbinding feminist spin.”

The editor’s last pick is Josh Sessoms’ So Tonight That You May See, United States/Guyana 2018. Sessoms, explains Grossman, combines the symbology of varying spiritual systems into new representations of modern magic. “This sorceress reflects a potent brew of traditions, as Sessoms has blended African-Caribbean and Western Hermetic iconography together throughout the piece.” Grossman expands that the witch is a “true visionary who has The Sight – the ability to see into other dimensions,” whilst the symbol for the element of Earth floats above her acting as a halo, “crowning her with natural sovereignty.”

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