Witches Sabbath. Francisco de Goya. 1798In our discussion on witches, one of my students linked to kimber scott's blog post on art about witches. Although there are a number of interesting images on scott's post that can be read for representations of gender, the male imagination, the supernatural, and the body, among other cultural meanings, the image above by Goya caught my eye for its Orientalism. The painting can be read for its gendered racialization as its Orientalist tropes are evident in: the reclining figure, the veiled women, the sand, the crescent moon, and, of course, the "black devil" in the middle. The he-goat pagan animal god who is holding court over a group of spellbound women who are beneath him. The Wiki page, however, reads Goya's painting as an earlier part of a series of "Black Paintings" condemning superstition, the Spanish Inquisition, and disillusionment with Spanish political and religious developments. Although it can be argued that that is true, it is also true that he used Orientalist tropes to do that. What's so radical about linking Arabs with superstition? Nothing.
On the other hand, look at the lily whiteness of this angelic looking witch painted by another Spanish painter, Luis Ricardo Falero, in 1880, This painting is also called The Witches Sabbath. Seems men like witches. This red-headed woman looks like a neo-classical goddess: beautiful, nude, fantasy-like, dreamy. She looks like an alabaster statue straight out of classical Greek tradition. Her red hair, of course, adding that hint of recklessness as red-haired women were seen as closer to the devil, more likely to be hot-tempered. She may be riding a broomstick with bats hovering in the sky over her shoulder, but she is clearly sailing into a man's dream -- indeed, this painting is also known as Muse of the Night. In other words, the path to a man's imaginative power. What's so radical about using women to fuel male creativity? Nothing.