Albrecht Dürer

In the print Witch riding backwards on a goat (1501–1502), Albrecht Dürer depicts a barely clothed woman, a witch, sitting astride a leaping goat. Contrary to the goat’s forward motion, the woman’s hair streams unnaturally in the opposite direction. The incongruous situation indicates the presence of the supernatural and ‘the devil’, which the goat was understood to visually represent.1 Four putti (cherubs) surround the female figure, brandishing symbols of witchcraft, such as an alchemist’s pot and a thorn apple plant.2 Dürer’s influence on the portrayal of witches and witch iconography was dramatic: the visual of the witch riding backwards, the malevolent crone, is continually re-imagined and treated as a firm precedent for the enduring image of the female witch today.3

 In this and other works by Dürer, the witch is powerfully reinforced as the catalyst of misfortune. This female figure, particularly when seen with broomstick in hand, is said to conjure storms and other grave occurrences, which Dürer alludes to in the upper-left of the picture plane. As one author suggests, she is ‘naked, unabashed, licentious – a stylised negation of idealised womanhood’.4


Albrecht Dürer (b. 1471 Nuremberg, Germany; ­­d. 1528 Nuremberg, Germany) was one of the defining artists of the Renaissance (1300–1600), whose exacting style exemplifies Northern European Renaissance Art. Dürer was a celebrated painter, printmaker, and intellectual. His interest in mathematics, anatomy, and architecture often intersected with his devout religious and mythological engagement. Dürer was one of the first Renaissance artists to visually interpret the figure of the witch. His depictions, infused with social connotations and textual recounts, have established the images of witches to be hideous, aged crones and/or alluring young seductresses.

  1. Mark Stocker, “Witch riding backwards on a goat,” Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Margaret A. Sullivan, “The witches of Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien,” Renaissance Quarterly 53, no. 2 (2000): 331–401.
  4. Malcolm Gaskill, “The fear and loathing of witches,in Spellbound: Magic, ritual & witchcraft (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2018), 99.

Albrecht Dürer
Witch riding backwards on a goat 1501–1502
11.7 x 7.2 cm
Collection of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington