A Late Harvest: The Work, the Flower and the Fruit

Yvonne Owens, PhD
4 min readSep 9, 2022
Cover: Artes feministas : artivismos e sul global, by Cláudia de Oliveira and Paula Guerra

So, I’ve been cited copiously and at length in a new book by a pair of feminist Portugese scholars, Cláudia de Oliveira and Paula Guerra, naming me alongside art history and witchcraft studies icons I’ve long admired and studied avidly for years: “Charles Zika (1997, 2007), Lyndal Roper (2004), Lynda Hults (2018), Claudia Swan (2005, 2013), Yvonne Owens (2020; 2021) e Linda Stone (2012),” which makes me enormously proud. Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359900171_Artes_feministas_artivismos_e_sul_global

Lyndal Roper was one of the internal readers for my dissertation for UCL, though she was really ‘borrowed,’ as she’s actually the Regius Chair in History at Oxford. She’s the first woman to ever hold the seat and the first Australian. She’s also the Regius Professor of History at Oriel College, and a Fellow of Oriel College, an Honorary Fellow of Merton College, and of Balliol College, Oxford. Cláudia de Oliveira and Paula Guerra’s work mentions me with citations like:

‘Grien implemented in The Witch and the Dragon the polarization between desire and abjection, in a visual strategy that complies with the thought of the early Church: the sinful woman [Eve] in opposition to the image of male sanctified Christ [Owens, 2017]. Grien unfolds his visual parable into emblems that position the Woman/Witch as a sexual “fault,” through which the unwary, unconsciously fallen, weak, victimized, and mortal man is ensnared and debased. For this, Grien involves in this image attraction and pornography: the woman defendant is compared to monstrous icons, with her “polluted” female genital emissions, showing, in fact, a fascination for women wrapped in misogyny. The success of Hans Baldung Grien, according to Owens [2017], depended on a balance between iconographic elements such as that found in fabliaux, the moralizing and exciting comic tales common in northeastern France between c.1150 and 1400. These tales were generally characterized sexual and eschatological obscenity and balanced attraction and fear, repulsion and desire, creating an eroticism steeped in abject horror….

‘But, according to the art historian Yvonne Owens, The Witch and the Dragon reveals epistemologies that allowed an educated reading of a select and erudite spectator: a noble humanist. A reading of the serpentine figure from Grien’s drawing reveals a basilisk38].[Figs. 20 and 21], an eschatological image, since the basilisk was, from the beginning of the Middle Ages, conventionally linked to death, sin, pollution, the Apocalypse and the Antichrist [Owens, 2017]….Still according to Owens’ reading, the witch’s youth refers to a young woman at menarche, alluding to Eve’s curse. The two bodies form an obscene ensemble, and the “idea that the stream that descends into the dragon’s tongue represents female blood […] combines abject signifiers more readily available to the early modern imagination [ Owens, 2017:33, authors’ translation].

And:

‘Baldung Grien was patronized by Christopher I of the Margrave dynasty of Baden-Durlach in Basel. Christopher I was an avid collector of pornographic prints and drawings and would have acquired a sketchbook from Grien, whose motif was pornographic witches, which would have been deposited in the Kunstkammer’s “Nude Room”: luxurious art collection, part of his cabinet of curiosities in the court of the Margraves of Baden-Durlach [Owens, 2017].’

And:

‘The vampirism of witches who fed on the blood of children, for Zika, was probably related to the literature and possibly to the oral tradition that presented them as lamies, night harpies and cannibals. Half-naked witches, with hair tied back, are portrayed biting the necks of children, surrounded by smoke, usually accompanied by signs such as mice, bones and garlic strings that involved magical practices. The smoke or tobacco was the point of contact with the roasted child. Soon, as holders of malefic powers such as smoke, witches came to be seen as cannibals, which was also related to the interpretation of female effluvia, as analyzed by Yvonne Owens and Linda Stone. Thus, witches were transgressors of ethical, moral, religious and social codes, since they evoked the deepest taboos, as they had power over life, inverting and threatening the foundations of social order [Zika, 1997].’

And:

‘The figure of the old witch leads the viewer to identify her as the source of all evil. It seems implied that the old hag is the fulcrum of all the lewd activities performed by the younger witch figures. The third also carries a small cauldron from which flames come out. The interconnected figures suggest a scene of sexual domination among women. The old witch, in the center, seems to exert supernatural command over the younger ones portrayed in the classic malefic scenes [Owens, 2017]. Together, the three witches reveal concerns about the mutability of the female body, indicating that young women will transform into old women. It is the comparison of bodies that draws attention to their specificities. Young witches have soft features that communicate youth and contrast with those of the old woman, whose body is muscular but her breasts are saggy and fall over a large rib cage. The artist narrows the field of vision, bringing the viewer closer to the bodies of the witches, resulting in an intimate and pornographic perspective.’

And:

‘The woman as a sign of abnormality or the “deformed man” supported “the topos derived from difference as a mark of inferiority, remaining a constant in Western scientific discourse”, as Owens wrote [2017:62, authors’ translation]. Misogynistic satires by authors such as Juvenal, Ovid, Virgil and Tertullian, associated with vernacular works, such as those by Giovanni Boccaccio or Jean de Meun, were equally popular among humanist literati. These works provided models for misogynistic representations of women and their perversely inferior and entirely abject bodies.’

De Oliveira and Guerra also cited my article with Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju for the peer-reviewed journal, Coreopsis: Journal of Myth & Theatre, edited by Lezlie Kinyon and published by the Society for Ritual Arts, Berkeley, CA.: ‘Abjection, Desire, Menstruation and Sacred Sexuality: The Witch Figure as Sign for Embodied Choice.’ Link: https://societyforritualarts.com/coreopsis/spring-2021-issue/abjection-desire-menstruation-and-sacred-sexuality/

Good stuff, in other words….

It’s getting out there.

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Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.