Edinburgh set for first UK exhibition on witchcraft

The exhibition is at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Picture: Contributed
The exhibition is at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Picture: Contributed
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The world of spells, witchery and the supernatural will take over the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in a major exhibition opening in time for the Edinburgh Festival season.

Billed as the UK’s first exhibition devoted to witchcraft, it will feature more than 80 works drawn from collections spanning around 500 years.

Picture: Contributed

Picture: Contributed

Works by a number of leading artists, including Francisco Goya, William Blake, John William Waterhouse, Edward Burra, Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman and Paula Rego are among those to go on display.

The exhibition will also features some of the earliest books about witchcraft, as well as insights into what triggered some of Europe’s most notorious witch trials and the rituals that inspired some of earliest and most graphic works.

The exhibition – Witches and Wicked Bodies – will be accompanied by a programme of special events, including a late-night Halloween party featuring live music and pop-up bars, a children’s theatre production and talks about real-life witch trials and how the portrayal of witches has changed over the centuries.

The exhibition, which is part of this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival, unfolds over six themed sections, including one looking at “hideous hags and seductive sorceresses” and another on “sabbaths and devilish rituals”.

Among the highlights are depictions of the witches in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Robert Burns’s Tam o’ Shanter, and iconic works such as Witches at their Incantations, by Salvator Rosa, and The Whore of Babylon by William Blake.

Artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge curated the exhibition for the National Galleries of Scotland, with the British Museum, the Tate and the V&A among those loaning works. Alan Davie and John Bellany are among the Scottish artists to have related work featured in the show.

Ms Petherbridge said: “There have been some exhibitions looking at witchcraft in Italy and France in the past, but there has been nothing which has specifically looked at how women have been portrayed, like this exhibition does, and certainly nothing like this at all in Britain.

“In a way, it is really an exhibition on the suppressed history of how women have been represented by artists throughout European history.

“There have been a huge number of historians looking at witchcraft over the years, but not that many people have looked at how it has been represented by artists. I think it’s an incredibly relevant exhibition, with men’s representation of women.”

Patricia Allerston, deputy director of the Scottish National Gallery, said: “From the late 15th century onwards, artists focused on the most sensational aspects of witches’ activities, such as their supposed attendance at sabbaths and their engagement in ‘diabolical pacts’, both of which were thought to have involved lascivious sexual practices.”

John Leighton, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to be partners with the British Museum on this truly fascinating and compelling show”
• Witches and Wicked Bodies is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from tomorrow until 3 November.