Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) better known simply as Goya, was a Spanish painter and printmaker, who walked a unique line between the old masters and the moderns. Regarded highly by both schools, he helped to usher in a new era of painting.
The board depicts the Devil in the form of a goat, surrounded by a coven of witches. The he-goat Satan, made massive and fearsome through silhouette, delivers a sermon in mockery of the Christian rites. Heavy use of shadow and chiaroscuro define this scene. A thick carbon black underlies all other colors, which are realized through violent, slashing brushstrokes. Thick lines and the goat’s prominence suggest human inadequacy, all done in an effort to mock superstition.
The “Witches’ Sabbath” is part of Goya’s “Black Paintings” series, unreleased in the artist’s lifetime. It is the work of an older man, an establishment artist painting for his own pleasure in life’s waning years. The work is thought to be critical of witchcraft. More so, it is a harsh rebuke of the Spanish Inquisition. Here Goya literalizes the Inquisition’s sensationalized tales of witchery in order to make such accusations appear ridiculous.