Colour Woodcut printed from two blocks; Germany, 1510
The artwork above shows four naked women surrounded by the paraphernalia of their black art. To the shrieking incantation of an old woman, her young companion lifts the lid off a pot from which fumes and unspeakable ingredients sweep high into the night air. A fifth woman rides backwards through the sky on a goat.
Hans Baldung (1485-1545) had a personal fascination with magic and the supernatural, as is clear from his many woodcuts shown above. He came from a professional German Strasbourg family, but worked from 1503 to 1507 in Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg. In 1510 another Strasbourg artist, Hans Wechtlin, employed the new technique of colour woodcut to suggest light and shade. Baldung however has used his tone block to establish the mood of his sinister subjects in his art.
Baldung’s obsession with magic and witchcraft gave vivid expression to the fears of religious heresy, social dissolution, and hidden female powers that preyed on the late medieval imagination. The woodcut was published in Strasbourg, whose bishop had been made executor of a papal bull against witchcraft in 1484.
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