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Salvator Rosa, Witches at their Incantations

Key facts
Full title Witches at their Incantations
Artist Salvator Rosa
Artist dates 1615 - 1673
Date made about 1646
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 72 × 132 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1984
Inventory number NG6491
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Witches at their Incantations
Salvator Rosa

Beneath a pitch-dark sky, bizarre and terrifying magical spells are being cast. Monstrous figures, some of them naked, are arranged as if on a stage set, illuminated by scattered pools of light.

In the centre, one witch smokes the corpse of a criminal that hangs from a withered tree while her companion cuts its toenails. In front of them, naked witches use a wax effigy to cast a love spell; another, surrounded by a catalogue of magical aids, stirs a cauldron. On the extreme left, two men exhume a corpse and force it to sign a document while away to the right, a swaddled infant is held above the gaping jaws of a monster.

This macabre scene evokes a witches' sabbath, a gathering where the devil was worshipped. Salvator Rosa developed an interest in the supernatural while working in Florence in the 1640s and probably painted this remarkable picture around 1646.

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