francisco goya witch paintings
Typical of the imagery of witchcraft, many of the symbols used are inverted. The goat extends his left rather than right hoof towards the child, while the quarter moon faces out of the canvas at the top left corner. In the middle high-ground, a number of bats can be seen flying overhead, their flocking motion echoing the curve of the crescent moon.
Interest in the supernatural was a feature of Romanticism, and is to be found for example in Weber’s opera Der Freischütz. However, in a Spanish context, Goya’s paintings have been seen as a protest against those who upheld and enforced the values of the Spanish Inquisition, which had been active in Witch hunting during the seventeenth-century Basque witch trials. The later Witches Sabbath was painted as a bitter struggle raged between liberals and those in favour of a church and a royalist-lead state, which culminated in the so-called Ominous Decade (1823-1833). Both paintings can be seen as an attack on the superstitious beliefs rife in Spain during a period when tales of midnight gatherings of witches and the appearance of the devil were commonplace among the rural populace. They reflect the artist’s disdain for the popular tendency towards superstition and the church-led return to medieval fears. Goya’s depictions of such scenes mocked what he saw as medieval fears exploited by the established order for political capital and gain.
Typical of the imagery of witchcraft, many of the symbols used are inverted. The goat extends his left rather than right hoof towards the child, while the quarter moon faces out of the canvas at the top left corner.   In the middle high-ground, a number of bats can be seen flying overhead, their flocking motion echoing the curve of the crescent moon.
Witches’ Sabbath shows the devil in the form of a garlanded goat, surrounded by a coven of disfigured, young and aging witches in a moonlit barren landscape. The goat possesses large horns and is crowned by a wreath of oak leaves. An old witch holds an infant in her hands. The devil seems to be acting as priest at an initiation ceremony for the child, though popular superstition at the time believed the devil often fed on children and human fetuses. The skeletons of two infants can be seen; one discarded to the left, the other held by a crone in the centre foreground.
Art historians assume Goya felt alienated from the social and political trends that followed the 1814 restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, and that he viewed these developments as reactionary means of social control. In his unpublished art he seems to have railed against what he saw as a tactical retreat into Medievalism.  It is thought that he had hoped for political and religious reform, but like many liberals became disillusioned when the restored Bourbon monarchy and Catholic hierarchy rejected the Spanish Constitution of 1812. 
He holds court before a circle of crouched and mostly terrified women, accepted by art historians as a coven of witches.  Some bow their heads in fear, others look towards him in open-mouthed and rapt awe. Describing the women, art historian Brian McQuade writes that the “sub-humanity of the gathered group is underlined by their bestial features and moronic stares”.  Satan’s absolute power over the women has been compared to that of the king in Goya’s 1815 The Junta of the Philippines, where authority is gained not from respect or personal charisma, but through fear and domination.  The women are a mixture of old and young, and have similar twisted features; all but one are scowling, nervous and obsequious. Goya’s use of tone to create atmosphere is reminiscent of both Velázquez and Jusepe de Ribera. The latter was an admirer of Caravaggio and utilised tenebrism and chiaroscuro. Goya learned from these sources, and from Rembrandt, some of whose prints he owned. 
The Devil in the вЂWitchesвЂ™ SabbathвЂ™ is illustrated in black as a goat standing ominously among is the gathered coven. The witches and warlocks each have ghastly features and frightening expressions.
Among the crowd is a lone girl dressed in black that seems to be resisting the Devil and the covenвЂ™s ritual. Like other pieces in the вЂBlack PaintingsвЂ™, the вЂWitchesвЂ™ SabbathвЂ™ evokes nightmarish and pessimistic feelings. The piecesвЂ™ visual aspects and their impact on modern art are often seen as a precursor to expressionism.
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, plate 43 in the series, depicts a sleeping man (thought to be Goya himself), surrounded by a swarm of strange flying creatures. These are the “monsters” of the title, which invade the mind when reason is surrendered to imagination and dreams. Many of the animals Goya depicts hold symbolic meaning: the owls and bats represent ignorance and evil, while the watchful lynx at the artist’s feet – a creature known for its ability to see in darkness – alerts us to the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction. The bat with the goat head may be a satanic reference, and allusions to witchcraft can be found throughout the series. However, as with many of Goya’s prints, the intended meaning of the various symbols can be hard to deduce with certainty.
One significant aspect of the picture to note is the association between Saturn and “saturnine” temperaments, or melancholy, an important connection given what is known about Goya’s disturbed state of mind when he painted these works. At the very least, the painting expresses the deepest, darkest aspects of his psyche, perhaps expressing the artist’s own fears of losing his powers in the face of his declining physical and mental health. On a broader political level, the work can be seen within the context of Goya’s time as an allegory of reactionary rule. Certainly the oppressive reign of Ferdinand VII signified a refusal to adapt to the evolution of modern life and society, while the persecutions of the Inquisition cannibalized Spain’s very soul. However, because Goya did not write about these works and never intended for them to be displayed in public, his true intentions remain a mystery.
This literal reading seems more plausible when you consider Witches’ Sabbath, painted in the same year as Witches in Flight and also sold to the Duchess of Osana. Witches Sabbath is a more straightforward image of typical crone-like witches, murdering infant children to please their goat-formed master.
Compare this scene with The Meadow of San Isidro, the exact same view painted in 1788, ten years before Witches in Flight and just before the French Revolution caused so much mayhem in Europe.
Clearly Goya’s intention was not to use his pictorial art to make what could be considered a scientific drawing or painting, but his acute visualizations of diseased people certainly show the importance of his works to the history of medicine. As a colophon to this brief encounter between the paintings of one of the greatest artists of all time and medicine, more specifically with madness and neurological disorders produced by hypothyroidism, we introduce one of his most amazing works related to the human cycles of life and death, his painting of St. Francis Borgia now in the Cathedral of Valencia (Figure 7).
Likewise, some of these images reveal Goya’s acute perception of illnesses that produced both physical and mental disorders (Figures 5 and 6). Not all of the characters suffer from the same illness, but there is a clear impression, both in the morphologic composition of the inmates and in the expression on their faces, that they suffer from certain idiocy, and there is certain protuberance in the neck of some of them that can seen by close inspection.