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Salvator Rosa : “Scenes of Witchcraft II – Day” (c. 1645-1649)

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Rosa’s scene at noon showcases several hoary hags that exemplify his treatment of witches. Clutching skulls, wielding brooms, and slicing lizards, the witches prepare to travel to the Sabbath, an orgy of witches. One witch flays the skin of a thrashing lizard to extract the innards needed to concoct magical unguents, while her companions brandish skulls. Goats were the common mode of transportation for witches, but Rosa substitutes an owl, a harbinger of evil. Although Rosa foregrounds the violent cruelty of witchcraft, situating the grotesque hags in the full light of day introduces a comic aspect to the scene. Rosa’s use of comedy and the unexpected to critique the world around him stemmed from the satirical poetry he wrote throughout his stay in Florence and his return to Rome in 1649. By lightening the palette and mood of the painting, Day reflects his interest in satire and his self-appointed role to expose and critique human folly.

Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.

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