The Secrets of the Witch Riding the Goat Backwards

Copyright Dr. Elizabeth Garner All Rights Reserved

The Witch art by Albrecht Durer
The naked woman called a witch which is not riding backwards on goat



Albrecht Dürer did not assign this title; it is a title assigned by some previous historian.

This is one of only a few prints in which Dürer displays the “D” in his monogram backwards.  There are only six Dürer compositions in which a Hungarian ball of tribute is found; here, it has a hole in the top indicating that there is some sort of “broken” tribute being given to one of the figures.

Scholars, who have not offered any reasonable interpretation, have overwhelmingly ignored the pictorial elements in this composition.  This woman is not a witch.  Witches in medieval prints were not depicted nude at this time except by one of Dürer’s apprentices, Hans Baldung Grien, who made his reputation on printing erotic themes.  However, Grien had not joined Dürer’s workshop until much later than this print was published.

She holds a distaff and spindle, used with a wheel for spinning yarn, symbolizing that she is a spinster, an unmarried woman. I discovered she wears two rings on her index and third finger, which normally signified betrothal or marriage.  She rides upon the medieval astrological symbol for Capricorn, the sea-goat that had a fishy tail on the body of a goat. There are three partially buried pilgrimage staffs.  There are four little figures or putti as they are frequently called (singular: putto).  Three of these putti appear to be male while the more demurely dressed one in the lower right corner may be assumed to be female.

It appears that this image is a tribute to five of the eighteen Dürer siblings and that Dürer is indicating that four of these siblings had died as young children.  The seventh and eighth siblings, Agnes and Margret, were twins born in 1476 under the sign of Capricorn (the only Capricorn siblings).  Agnes died as a little girl, while Margret was 24 when this print was made (her death registry entry indicates she died unmarried, a spinster).  It appears that the figure identified as a “witch” is actually the spinster Margret.

The fact that the dead Agnes and a male are reaching for the same pilgrimage staff would indicate that these two children were contiguous in birth order; therefore the male putto would be the sixth child, born just before Agnes, named Anthoni.  The other two male putti could be interpreted as siblings of the same name since the topiary held on the shoulder by the left putto represents a “family tree.”  Of the eighteen children, two were named Sebald, and three were named Hanns, which means two of the Hanns had died young. Hanns III, also an artist, lived into adulthood and became court painter to the King of Poland.  Thus, the two other male putti could be either the Sebalds or the Hanns which we don’t find out until we decode the print known as the The Three Putti with the Shield, also of 1500.

Copyright by Dr. Elizabeth Garner, all rights reserved worldwide, September 4, 2013

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