The Magic Circle (John William Waterhouse)

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The Magic Circle, 1886.

The Magic Circle is an oil painting int he Pre-Raphaelite style by John William Waterhouse, finished in 1886. The painting depicts a witch or sorceress standing in front of a cauldron ritualistically drawing a magic circle around as her familiars watch.

The painting is full of magical symbolism including the crow familiars who remain outside of the circle, a snake worn as a necklace, the woman's rod bringing up flames from the circle, a curved dagger in her hand, and a bundle of reagents in her sash. The smoke from her cauldron issues directly up and has an iridescent quality to it, indicating it has unearthly properties. An illuminated cave can be seen in the rocks in the background indicating her dwelling.

One of my favorite things about this piece, aside from the technical skill, is how Waterhouse did not make the woman overtly enticing, ugly, or even cruel looking as many artists often depict witches, rather, she looks plain, yet determined.

Waterhouse was well into his career at this time and his style has become more pronounced. Like most of his work, the background is a bit blurry, forcing they viewer to focus specifically on the woman.