A major new exhibition on the subject of women depicted as witches opened at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art this weekend. You may have heard about Witches and Wicked Bodies already, as it has attracted a great deal of media interest and looks like it will be the “must see” show of this summer.
We are delighted to have lent ten books from our collections to the exhibition. These are nearly all drawn from the weird and wonderful collection of John Ferguson (1838-1916), who was a 19th-century Professor of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and a passionate book collector who built up a large library on the esoteric subject of alchemy and related areas such as witchcraft.
The exhibition has been curated by Professor Deanna Petherbridge and Dr Patricia Allerston. Dr Allerston initially visited Special Collections in Autumn last year to explore the witchcraft material in the Ferguson collection and was greatly impressed by what she found. We have subsequently lent several key texts to the show, including a 1494 edition of the Malleus maleficarum (Sp Coll Ferguson An-y.12); this book (“The hammer of the witches”) is one of the most notorious witch-hunt manuals of the 15th Century, arguing that women were more susceptible to witchcraft and demonic possession than men owing to the inherent weakness of their gender! Other loans include: the Discoverie of Witchcraft (Sp Coll Ferguson Ap-d.15), the first book in English to be devoted to the topic of witches, all copies of which were ordered to be destroyed by James I in 1603; Newes from Scotland (Sp Coll Al-a.36), the first tract on Scottish witchcraft; and The Lancashire Witches (Sp Coll Ferguson Af-g.20), a rather more lighthearted chapbook account of witches who “divert themselves in merriment”.
The exhibition runs in Edinburgh until November 3, so you can see all these books – and more – on display until then. In the meantime, if you are interested in exploring our spellbinding witchcraft resources further, a good place to start is our virtual exhibition The Damned Art and our book of the month article on Newes from Scotland.
Categories: Special Collections