Macbeth, Shakespeare: the three weird sisters by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825).
When William Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, around 1605, there were frequent outbreaks of fear in Europe about the dangers arising from witchcraft. The three witches who open the play seemed to many perfectly credible beings, greatly to be feared and, if possible, to be destroyed. The mixture that Shakespeare's witches claim to make up in the play, from a toad, a Jew's liver, the finger of a child strangled at birth, etc. raises up evil spirits of the kind that were believed to work in cahoots with the devil and to cause illness and death, wasting of crops, shipwrecks and stillbirths. Even after a literal belief in witches became confined to the least educated and least powerful, the witch remained a potent figure in the culture of the elite. This striking portrayal of Shakespeare's witches was produced in 1783 by the Swiss painter Fuseli. Fuseli painted horrific and macabre scenes, taking his inspiration from gothic and late mediaeval tales. His paintings were published through mezzotints such as this one, published in 1785: mezzotint is a printmaking technique that is ideal for gloomy and mysterious subjects, especially night-scenes. The ghastly witches are accompanied on the left by a deathshead moth, a moth with markings resembling a skull on its back.¹
¹Wellcome Library /Entire. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2016, from http://catalogue.wellcomelibrary.org/record=b1576077