The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches is an oil painting by the Swiss-born British Romantic artist Henry FuseliSwiss-born British Romantic artist (1741–1825), who established a reputation for his paintings depicting the horrifying and fantastic.. Originally exhibited under the title of Lapland Orgies, and sometimes known simply as The Night-Hag, it was first shown in 1799. It is an illustration of a passage from the epic poem by John Milton, (1608–1684) Paradise Lost (II, 622–66), comparing the hellhounds surrounding Sin[a]In Paradise Lost, Sin is the guard at the gates of Hell. to those who:
… follow the night-hag when, call’d In secret, riding through the Air she comes, Lur’d with the smell of infant blood, to dance With Lapland witches, while the laboring moon Eclipses at their charms..
Night-Hag is a reference to the Greek goddess Hecate, who presided over witchcraft and other magical rituals.
The thinness of the paint and damage by abrasion make some of the details of the painting difficult to discern, but the Night-Hag is depicted in the upper centre of the picture, as a demon mounted on horseback surrounded by nine infernal hounds, which the witch in the foreground is looking up at. In front of the seated and hooded witch – a frequent feature in Fuseli’s paintings – is a sleeping or drugged male child, with a hand offering up a dagger.
The Lapland witches are dancing in the right middle ground, to the beating of drums from the witches on the left; it was believed that the beating of drums during magic rituals was characteristic of the witches of Lapland, the last part of Europe to be converted to Christianity.
Exhibition and provenance
Now in the possession of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who purchased it for £22,000 in 1980, The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches was first exhibited at the Milton Gallery in London in 1799, one of forty-seven paintings Fuseli produced illustrating the life and works of John Milton.
Fuseli sold the the painting to his future biographer John Knowles in 1808, remarking that “the picture … is one of my very best-yet”. That opinion was evidently not shared by its later owners, the Boyd family of Penkill Castle in Girvan, Scotland, when in about 1920 Mrs Boyd gave the work to her maid, Mrs Smith, because she “couldn’t stand it”.
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