Witches at their Incantations

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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Beneath a pitch-dark sky, bizarre and terrifying magical spells are being cast. Monstrous figures, some of them naked, are arranged as if on a stage set, illuminated by scattered pools of light.

In the centre, one witch smokes the corpse of a criminal that hangs from a withered tree while her companion cuts its toenails. In front of them, naked witches use a wax effigy to cast a love spell; another, surrounded by a catalogue of magical aids, stirs a cauldron. On the extreme left, two men exhume a corpse and force it to sign a document while away to the right, a swaddled infant is held above the gaping jaws of a monster.

This macabre scene evokes a witches' sabbath, a gathering where the devil was worshipped. Salvator Rosa developed an interest in the supernatural while working in Florence in the 1640s and probably painted this remarkable picture around 1646.

The National Gallery, London



Witches at their Incantations


about 1646


Oil on canvas


H 72 x W 132 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1984

Work type



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