Oil on canvas
72 cm × 132 cm (72 in × 52 in)
The National Gallery

Witches at their Incantations is a painting by the Italian Baroque artist Salvator Rosa (1615–1673), completed in about 1646. Rosa had become interested in the supernatural during the 1640s, and this painting depicts a scene reminiscent of a witches’ sabbath.[1]

The scene is dawn, with a hint of blue sky emerging above the distant hill. The central figure of a hanged man, one witch smoking the corpse while another cuts its toenails, is surrounded by a monster resembling a dinosaur skeleton, apparently being offered a swaddled infant, and another naked witch using a wax effigy to cast a love spell while yet another is stirring her cauldron. To the left is a shrouded figure looking over a skeleton being raised from its coffin by two men and forced to sign a document.

The art critic Jonathan Jones has described Witches at their Incantations as a “distillation of gloom”, and a representation of the practices attributed to the followers of Satan. But as he goes on to say, rather than being an expression of the 17th-century belief in witchcraft it may alternatively be a study of imagination, an early work of the Age of Enlightenment, which emphasised the pursuit of knowledge obtained by reason and the evidence of the senses.[2]

Witches at their Incantations was acquired by The National Gallery in 1984.[1]