Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) Francisco de Goya Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) by Francisco de Goya was painted by the Spanish artist between 1797-1798 as oil on canvas. The painting depicts the witches' Sabbath celebrations under the watchful gaze of the waxing gibbous moon.

The witches are shown as a disturbing juxtaposition of young and old, some with healthy young faces, whilst others have the more usual wizened faces of crones, and even the baby who is being held aloft for blessing by the Great He-Goat, a depiction of Satan, has a strangely drawn and skeletal appearance. A second child beside him is also being held up for blessing by a younger looking witch, and the circular setting of the witches surrounding the He-Goat suggests some sort of ritual practise is taking place.

The depiction of witchcraft as seen in Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) by Francisco de Goya is unwaveringly negative, with the bodies of dead children hanging and discarded during the ritual Sabbath sacrifice ceremony to the He-Goat, who is dressed with a crown of leaves atop his giant horns, his eyes glowing red with unseeing ferocity. The landscape behind the witches is completely barren, with no clear indication of where the painting is set, giving it an eerie and odd otherworldly appearance. It is commonly thought that the Devil would ask his subjects to bring him children to feast upon, and Francisco de Goya definitely seems to highlight this stereotypical idea of what a witches' Sabbath may look like. Other typical witchcraft imagery can also be seen in the background, such as the prominent half moon and also the flying bats disappearing into the dark skies.

Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) by Francisco de Goya was one of a number of the artist's works that focused on the theme of witchcraft and witches, and he also paints witches as the prominent characters of several of his other works too. Francisco de Goya was working during a tumultuous time in his native Spain, and his elusion to covens and witchcraft are thought to be a comment on the Spanish Inquisition and the subsequent Basque witch trials, where the Inquisition military attempted to remove all suspected witches from the Navarre region of Spain, which totaled almost 7,000 cases of suspected witchcraft in the region. Francisco De Goya didn't agree with this tendency for superstition and was wary of the prominence of Medieval fear based on religious traditions. Many of his paintings that feature witchcraft were commissioned by wealthy patrons, and they are both mocking and disdainful in their dealing with the subject matter of Satan and witches. A fantastic related artwork was Saturn Devouring his Son.

Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) in Detail Francisco de Goya