Witches' Flight (Vuelo de Brujas) (1798)
Painting by Francisco Goya (Spain, 1746-1828)
At center point are three semi-nude witches wearing penitential coroza bearing aloft a writhing nude figure, their mouths close to their victim, as if to devour him or suck his blood. Below, two figures in peasants' garb recoil from the spectacle: one has thrown himself to the ground covering his ears, the other attempts to escape by covering himself with a blanket, making the fig hand gesture to ward off the evil eye. Finally, a donkey emerges on the right, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the scene.
The general scholarly consensus is that the painting represents a rationalist critique of superstition and ignorance, particularly in religious matters: the witches' corozas are not only emblematic of the violence of the Spanish Inquisition (the upward flames indicate that they have been condemned as unrepentant heretics and will be burned at the stake), but are also reminiscent of episcopal mitres, bearing the characteristic double points. The accusations of religious tribunals are thus reflected back on themselves, whose actions are implicitly equated with superstition and ritualized sacrifice. The bystanders can then be understood either as appalled but unable to do anything or willfully ignorant and unwilling to intervene.
The donkey, finally, is the traditional symbol of ignorance.
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