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Temptresses, decrepit hags and glamorous spell-casters: New Scottish art exhibition to reveal real faces of witchcraft


The dark history of European witchcraft will be explored in an exhibition opening at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art next July.

500 years of paintings and drawings by artists such as William Blake and Francisco De Goya will be included in Witches and Wicked Bodies, which runs from July 27 to November 23.

The organisers hope to show that witches were not just seen as cackling women on broomsticks, but as temptresses, decrepit hags and glamorous spell-casters. National Galleries of Scotland have curated the show with assistance from artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge.

It will delve into the 16th and 17th centuries, during which thousands of women were killed because of fears of witchcraft. There will be one section dedicated to representations of some of Scotland’s most famous witches, the three sisters from Macbeth.

A selection of contemporary works includes some female artists’ take on the witch. Paula Rego’s 1996 work Straw Burning looks back to 1612’s Pendle Witch Trials while Kiki Smith’s Out of the Woods takes an enquiring look at the phenomenon.

Witches and Wicked Bodies is organised in partnership with the British Museum, who have loaned William Blake’s The Whore of Babylon which will be displayed alongside the Scottish National Galleries’ own Blake drawing, once thought to depict Hecate, the classical witch of the crossroads.

London’s National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum are also lending works.  

John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “I believe that this is the first time that witchcraft across the ages has been the subject of a major art exhibition in the UK and we are delighted to be partners with the British Museum on this truly fascinating and compelling show.“