Research Stream


Charles Zika
The University of Melbourne

Giovanni Tarantino
The University of Western Australia


Emotions and Exclusion: Witchcraft Imagery of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Century

This project explores how emotions commonly associated with witchcraft prosecution, such as fear, anxiety and envy, are represented and circulated through witchcraft imagery, and what this imagery can tell us about the significance of contemporary anxieties concerning threats to communal unity and cohesion. The project will also investigate the radical inversion in this imagery around the turn of the eighteenth century, when the disgust and revulsion leveled at the practitioners of witchcraft is redirected against their accusers.

Emotions and Exclusion: Witchcraft Imagery of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centurie

Saul and the Witch of Endor, Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, 1526. Courtesy of The Rijksmuseum.

The project proposes to understand the role of the witchcraft imagery in paintings, prints, drawings, book illustration and other forms of visual representation during the height of witchcraft prosecutions throughout much of central and western Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century. Secondly, it will explore the significant changes that become apparent in this imagery during the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, as the judicial processes applied to cases of witchcraft were increasingly questioned and skepticism about the reality of witchcraft beliefs appeared more frequently. The works to be explored include not only those of well-known artists, but also the anonymous illustrators of pamphlets and books; and during the later seventeenth century, the critical iconographical influence of the biblical Witch of Endor.

The project is premised on the claim that this imagery represents a form of visual rhetoric that was meant to communicate particular viewpoints and stimulate emotional responses in viewers. It will attempt to uncover such intended emotional responses through the visual language in which they were encoded. A clearer understanding of this visual coding will help uncover the anxieties about communal cohesion and survival that artists linked to the threat of witchcraft and its prosecution. It will also facilitate an understanding of the major change in attitude towards witchcraft in the later seventeenth century through the parodying of witch beliefs and the ridiculing of the credulity of their prosecutors.


Zika, C., ‘The Witch of Endor Before the Witch Trials’, in Louise Nyholm Kallestrup, ed., Magic, Heresy and Witchcraft: Contesting Orthodoxy in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2015

Zika, C., “The Witch and Magician in European Art”, in Owen Davies, ed., Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press – forthcoming 2014

Zika, C., “Images and Witchcraft Studies: A Short History”, in Marko Nenonen and Raisa Maria Toivo, eds, Writing Witch-hunt Histories: Challenging the Paradigm, Leiden and Boston: Brill, pp. 41-85 (2013)

Zika, C. ‘The witch in early modern art’, in Brian Levack, ed., Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 141-156 (2013),

Zika, C. ‘En-Dor, Medium of. IV. Visual Arts’, in Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception. Berlin & Boston: De Gruyter. Vol. 7, cols 875-877 (2013).

Recent Papers in Preparation for Publication

‘Transforming Disgust into Ridicule in the Early 18th Century: Jean Crépy’s Print of Laurent Bordelon’s Monsieur Oufle at the Sabbath’, at the ‘Emotion, Ritual and Power’ Collaborator, University of Adelaide, 10 February 2014

‘Transformations of Sabbath Imagery in the 17th Century: Visual Lineages and Religious Discourse’, at International Conference on "Hexensabbat. Fantasien der Nacht und die Erkundung des Imaginären", Arbeitskreis Internationaler Hexenforschung, at Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Weingarten, 28 June 2013

‘Representing Witchcraft in the Later 17th Century: the influence of the woman of Endor as ritual magician’