Sexy Witch in the 1470s
The following painting by the ‘Niederrheinischer Meister’ ['Niederrhein', 'Nederrijn', or 'Lower Rhine' Master] is traditionally titled ‘Liebeszauber’ ['Love Magic' or, less likely, 'Magic of Love']. The painting is held in Leipzig at the Museum der bildenden Künste.
‘Liebeszauber’ is, I believe, the earliest painting that is clearly intended to depict a young and attractive witch in an erotic way. The painting is dated to between 1470 and 1480, which makes it a generation earlier than the picture by Albrecht Dürer which I will discuss in another post. It is, inexplicably, omitted by Jane Davidson in her, otherwise excellent, The Witch in Northern European Art, 1470-1750 (Luca Verlag, 1987).
In the central section of this painting we have the beautiful young witch, golden-haired and pert-breasted, preparing her love spell. She is sprinkling a mysterious liquid on a heart in a chest by her side. The young witch, modestly, gazes away from the viewer, but she is being observed from behind. The voyeur has a clear view of our witch, but we have a better one; certainly a more erotically charged one. The transparent material is draped over the witch’s right arm, crosses her pubic area and clings to her left leg, heightening her allure without obscuring her nakedness.
It may not be obvious to a modern viewer but the sandals being worn by the witch in this painting also indicate both sexual liberation and aggression. Wikipedia explains that, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, long and pointed-toe shoes called ‘poulaines’ or ‘Cracowes’ (much like modern Winklepickers), were used to embarrass or excite members of the opposite sex by prodding their private parts under tables in public places. Women rarely wore underwear before the late nineteenth-century. Consequently, the phallic-shaped toe could very easily be wriggled into place, while hidden beneath the long skirts of a squirming female. Liberated and forward young women of the time wore poulaines to return, as much as possible, the favour.
So, here we have a naked, sexually liberated young witch, preparing a love-potion, while being observed fore and aft. Could the erotic intent of the artist be any more clear?