The Four Witches

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The Four Witches, 21.6cm x 15.6cm (8.250in x 6.125in)

The Four Witches (German: Die Vier Hexen, or Four Naked Women[1] or Four Sorceresses[2]) is a 1497 engraving by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. The work shows four sensual, exuberant nude women gathered conspiratorially in a circle underneath a hanging ball and before an open stone window. The window, as indicated by bones scattered across from it, is likely a gateway to death. The portal to the right shows a demon's face engulfed in flames, and is likely intended as a gateway to hell.[3] The woman from the second right most likely represents Discordia, the goddess of discord, who threw an apple amongst Juno, Minerva and Venus and thus ignited the Trojan War.

As with many of Dürer's engravings, the intended meaning or source is unclear; possible interpretations range from the four seasons and the four elements, to Aphrodite (represented here by the woman to the right wearing a myrtle wreath)[1] and the Graces, the Three Fates, or more simply four witches or four girls in a brothel. The most accepted meaning is that the work was created as an allegorical warning against discord - that disagreement leads invariable to hell and death. The positioning of the women matches a marble group of the three graces known to the quattrocento, and likely Dürer would have seen it from copies.[3] The ball hanging above the figures bears the letters "OGH" - meaning "Odium generis humani/odium of the human race", or possibly "Oh Gott hüte" (Oh God Forbid). The art historian Marcel Briton suggests that the work may not have any specific meaning, and is merely a portrait of four nudes, "the whim of a young artist annoyed by the puritanical conventionality of his fellow-citizens".[2]

The drawing has been copied and adapted a number of times; the Austrian artist Adolf Frohner (b. 1934) produced a version where the women are shown wearing bras and garter belts.[4]


  1. ^ a b Hutchison, 241
  2. ^ a b Brion, 129
  3. ^ a b Nürnberg, 15
  4. ^ Hutchison, 222


  • Brion, Marcel. Dürer. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960
  • Hutchison, Jane Campbell. Albrecht Durer A Guide to Research. New York: Garland, 2000.
  • Nürnberg, Verlag Hans Carl. Dürer in Dublin: Engravings and woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer. Chester Beatty Library, 1983
  • Sullivan, Margaret. The Witches of Durer and Hans Baldung Grien. Renaissance Quarterly 53.2, 2000.