The presentation Witches & Wicked Bodies provides a rich survey of images of European witchcraft from the ancient world to the present day. Witches, even in biblical and classical times were predominantly women and the misogynistic narratives of their wickedness and lewdness propounded by clerics in books such as the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches),1486 resulted in enduring stereotypes that were imaginatively re-invented by artists over the centuries. Unlike the disturbing historical accounts of witchcraft and the cruel punishments of the accused by burning and drowning, the visual images of prints and paintings are horrific and mysterious, but also sexually titillating, bizarre and often ribald. They range from hideous and jealous old crones devouring babies or wreaking destructive havoc through storms and fire to beautiful nude witches flaunting their sexuality and bewitching men, or, together with their hideous ancient mentors, stirring cauldrons of potions made from the fat of dead infants and flying up chimneys on broomsticks to participate in black masses and sex with devils. Historical artworks presented female witchcraft as a dangerous inversion of the patriarchal and religious world order, but contemporary artists have challenged these assumptions.

Deanna Petherbridge CBE is an artist, writer and curator. Her practice is drawing-based (predominantly pen and ink drawings on paper), although she has also produced large-scale murals and designed for the theatre. Her publications in the area of art and architecture are concerned with contemporary as well as historical matters and she has concentrated on writing about and promoting drawing. The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice, 2010 followed years of teaching and is hailed as a seminal text for practitioners and the general public. Her curated exhibitions include The Quick and the Dead: Artists and Anatomy, 1997, Witches and Wicked Bodies, 2013, Artists at Work, 2018. She celebrated a retrospective exhibition of her drawings at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester (2016-2017) accompanied by the monograph Deanna Petherbridge: Drawing and Dialogue, 2016. Her recent drawings are concerned with the stirring social issues of the times, including war and forced migration, environmental destruction and the pandemic. Her large-scale triptych The Destruction of the City of Homs, 2016 was on display at Tate Britain during 2019 – 2020.

Image: Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches (detail), 1796, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York