It goes without saying that the British Museum is one of the greatest sights in London. Tourists and residents alike fill the building everyday in what can only be described as a sweaty mass. My boyfriend and I go frequently to discover new rooms and the current periods in history we need exploring. This past weekend after the Saxons and Byzantines, we stopped at the museum’s new free exhibit Witches and Wicked Bodies.
Witches and Wicked Bodies is a fantastic array of etchings from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The various pieces of work fill a long dim room. Unfortunately there is no eerie music for atmosphere, but the works speak for themselves. Witches throughout time were ill-treated as many misunderstood groups. So much so that we are left with scenes like this:
Many people are familiar with more popularised time periods like the Salem Witch Trials, but fascination with witches and their magic goes beyond those stories.
The display is separated into time periods, as museums often do, but it is a key to understanding different degrees of acceptance and persecution throughout the centuries. In Edinburgh they threw women in the river to see if the women would float (if the drown they were innocent, obviously, and then dead). Master of rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, Claude Gillot’s etching Les Sabbats, from c. 722 was a perfect example of overblown baroque styling. There are witches on brooms and a skeletal horse – even a horned man standing above a sacrifice.
Visit to see the Goyas alone. His drawings almost carry a dark magic of their own. If you’re into witches of a different kind, visitors can see literary works in art like Henri Fuseli’s poster for Macbeth and the harpies attacking Odysseus. Beyond the magic those who see the works can also notice a theme of misogyny. The exhibit is also a fascinating look at perhaps how far we haven’t come.
It seems perhaps obvious to have spooky themed exhibits on display (the British Library currently has a display of gothic literature), but that doesn’t make them any less fun or enlightening.