Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) was fiercely committed to his independence and originality and obsessed with promoting his reputation as a great painter of history, philosophy, and morality. Painted in Florence at the Medici court, Rosa’s four Scenes of Witchcraft (c. 1645–49) reflect the Florentine traditions of satire, burlesque, and the macabre as well as a contemporary interest in witchcraft. These four tondi reveal Rosa’s interest in literary and philosophical traditions, the antique, magic, satire, and a desire to create images of novel subjects.
Several 16th- and 17th-century prints and drawings of occult imagery will provide visual context for Rosa’s images while underscoring his originality regarding the traditional iconography of witches and magicians found in prints circulating throughout Europe at the time. In addition, other examples of Rosa’s work from the CMA collection reveal how these Witchcraft scenes signal a turning point in Rosa’s career and the fashioning of his artistic identity. The oil painting Ruins in a Rocky Landscape (1640) and a pair of landscape drawings establish Rosa’s early reputation within the Roman landscape tradition. Prints and a satirical drawing made after Rosa returned to Rome in 1649 reveal how he adapted the themes and tone of his Witchcraft paintings to his grand ambitions for his work in Rome.