Rosa’s first scene depicts a young witch who plunges her knife into a writhing amphibian at dawn. The dark clouds of daybreak and anthropomorphic crags provide a gloomy atmosphere, while malevolent birds with piercing beaks hover around the central stabbing, focusing the viewer’s attention on the witch’s vicious act. The only beautiful enchantress Rosa ever painted, her elegance and ability to transform men into animals evokes the goddess Circe. But Rosa wasn’t interested in classical imagery; he inverted expectations by transforming Circe into an explicitly violent sorceress. Her calm expression makes the terrifying gesture of upraised human hands among the birds even more disturbing.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.