Spooky Art: Witches Sabbath by Fancisco Goya

Witches Sabbath
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In honor of spooky season, I plan to share a piece of art that celebrates the creepy or the paranormal every day in October. And, there are few artists who imbue more magic and mystery in their art than Spanish painter and print-maker Francisco Goya.

Goya was fairly obsessed with witches, and they feature heavily in his art. However, this is not because he believed in their power. In fact, Goya was a skeptic when it came to anything supernatural. He believed firmly in the logic and reason of the Enlightenment age, a frequent theme in his art. So, why was he so interested in witchcraft?

For Goya, witches functioned as a symbol in his art. In his paintings, they represent the backwards social customs and superstition that plagued Spain at the time. Goya believed that Spain was being held back by a dogmatic adherence to medieval beliefs and superstition, which he subtly mocks in his witch paintings. The inclusion of witches in his art can also be read as a criticism of the Spanish Inquisition, which continued to seek and punish witches well into the seventeenth century. The overall theme of these witch paintings is the struggle between the ultra-religious, royalist state and the newfound trend toward liberalism and secularization. All of this was quite subversive for the eighteenth century, especially when you consider the fact that Goya was a court painter.

This particular painting, entitled Witches Sabbath, was one of a series of five witchcraft paintings that Goya created for the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. The family were firm supporters of the Enlightenment and were frequent patrons of Goya.

Witches Sabbath depicts a rather stereotypical (for the time) scene of witches. The devil, represented in the form of a goat, sits in the center of a circle of witches, who gaze at him with adoration. One of the witches offers him the body of a baby, a reference to the fact that many believed that the devil ate human children at this time. Bats fly through the sky, a universal symbol of black magic and generalized spookiness.

Although the painting is dark in terms of subject matter, Goya executed the piece in a relatively bright color scheme and his lines are clear and distinct. The composition is also ordered, signs that the painting is meant to be understood ironically. True to his Enlightenment principles, Goya set out to provoke thought, not fear when he created this painting.

Originally published at on October 2, 2020.

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