Scenes of Witchcraft: Day
Average: 5 (4 votes)

More about Scenes of Witchcraft: Day

ewatkins's picture


In Salvator Rosa’s Scenes of Witchcraft: Day, we get to see the lighter side of witchcraft.

Or wait, maybe it’s just witchcraft in the light? Hard to say.

Whatever it may be, it’s at least clear that this second 'tondo' (circular painting) in a series of four tondi is the lightest and most satirical of the series. Then again, that’s kind of like choosing the least violent scene in the Kill Bill series. These broom wielding, animal slaying, owl riding old, naked ladies are quite impressive if you ask me, and it’s speculated that they’re headed to the Sabbath, a literal orgy of witches. In order to prepare for said orgy, they are slaying animals and collecting various fluids, organs, and parts for their potions. Because what’s a witches' orgy without lizard blood?

When it comes to influences, this piece has many a possibility. After all, this painting was done in the midst of the witch hunting craze that was spreading through Europe, and witch-related stories, prints, and anecdotes were rampant. In the art historical world, it’s speculated that this piece may have been inspired by an Albrecht Durer print that was popular at the time, in which a woman rides a he-goat while wielding a broom. The he-goat was an animal widely believed to be one used for transport by witches. The owl, however, ridden by the witch in this painting, was not an animal typically ridden by witches. But it is an animal deeply woven into the witchcraft practice. Night predators, like cats, snakes, and owls were all believed to possess innate magical qualities. Another specific inspiration may have come from "Metamorphosis of the Golden Donkey", one of the oldest surviving latin texts. In the story, a witch rubs herself in ointment and transforms into an owl. This seems like a very likely influence considering Rosa was an avid poet and he constantly referenced works of literature both in his poetry and in his painting.

Looking at this daytime depiction of female witches, it’s worth noting that maybe the painting was not satirical, but rather literal. The Pope and the Catholic Church primarily targeted elderly women, widows, and women selling herbs, and 70% of those tried as witches were women. And since many women were widows, they were left essentially without anyone to defend them in trial. The consequence of being found guilty was to be literally burnt at the stake, and over the course two-hundred years, it’s estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were executed.



  1. Anonymous. "Scenes of Witchcraft: Day." Cleveland Museum of Art. January 21, 2019. Accessed February 06, 2019.
  2. Anonymous. “The European Witch Hunts.” Jehovah’s Witness. Accessed February 06, 2019.
  3. Salerno, Luigi, and Ira Kohn. "Four Witchcraft Scenes by Salvator Rosa." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 65, no. 7 (1978): 225-31.
  4. Tal, Guy. "Witches on Top: Magic, Power, and Imagination in the Art of Early Modern Italy." Order No. 3230548, Indiana University, 2006.