A History of Witchcraft through Art

Erinn's Witch Pres Slide03Throughout history, there is no shortage of fascination with witchcraft. By the seventeenth century, artists had long fueled that fascination with images of Sabbaths, incantations, shape shifting, and flight. These images fed the fear of witchcraft by providing the horrifying illustrations of people and events that could only be the product of imagination. Art played a leading role in the theater of the witch-hunt in early modern Europe. The craze spanned nearly two centuries, but by 1782 the last officially sanctioned witchcraft execution had taken place. The end of the “witch craze” in Europe occurred at the height of the baroque.

Erinn Gavaghan‘s research analyzed the connection between two significant occurrences, seventeenth-century enlightenment and the end of the witch craze, through a study of how they came together in the art of the baroque. The increasing fascination with the study of nature in the seventeenth century lead to works of art that delved into explaining the unknown – catalogs of flora and fauna, investigations of the cosmos, and competition with nature for perfection. These same thought processes also allowed for a more rational investigation of sorcery, witchcraft, and the occult. These rational investigations of nature and the terrifying unknown of the supernatural manifested themselves in art.

Through this investigation, Erinn learned that in seventeenth-century art, the fear of witchcraft morphed into a fascination that required reasoned explanations and followed the pattern of investigation and reasoning in other disciplines of the time. While sorcery, witchcraft, and the occult will likely always be mysterious, fascinating, and even frightening to some, the period of the baroque marks a turning point in the understanding of these unknowns. That turning point was reflected in the art of the period.

Thursday, March 13, 2014
Gelateria del Leone
South Grand, St. Louis, Missouri