Prepare to be Spellbound: Our Ashmolean Exhibition is Now Open!

I’m delighted to announce that Spellbound: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, the project’s exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on which I’ve been leading with art historian Marina Wallace, is now open!

A copy of Matthew Hopkins’s The Discovery of Witches. © Queen’s College, University of Oxford

A medieval human heart in a lead box lined with silver. © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

An Edwardian curse poppet with a stiletto through the face. © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

A witches’ ladder. © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Over three linked galleries – each exploring one of our key emotions (love, fear, and rage), periods (medieval, modern, and early modern), and scales (cosmos, home, and community) – we’ve assembled nearly 200 enchanting objects and images from across eight centuries. Ranging from the fantastical and macabre to the beautiful and mysterious, they both bring the history of magic and witchcraft to captivating new life, and illustrate the myriad ways in which our ancestors have used ‘magical thinking’ – what we describe in the catalogue as a ‘powerful applied fantasy’ – to cope with the world around them. In addition, three contemporary artists ­– Ackroyd & Harvey, Annie Cattrell, and Katharine Dowson – have created mesmerising new installations responding to the themes of each gallery, while Fine Cell Work (a charity that teaches needlework to UK prisoners) have hand-stitched a beautiful wall-hanging inspired by medieval cosmological diagrams. The show has been exquisitely and imaginatively designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Stanton Williams.

Along with the other curators – the project’s Owen Davies, Malcolm Gaskill, and Ceri Houlbrook – and the entire exhibition team, we hope that you are able to make it to the dreaming spires between now and 6 January 2019 (you can buy tickets here), and that you have a spellbinding experience if you do (remember to share your impressions on #SpellboundExhibition!). If you are unable to attend in person, the exhibition catalogue – comprising seven original and lavishly illustrated essays by the curatorial team – is also available for purchase. See also the rich programme of exhibition events, including a workshop on the creation of historical comics with cartoonist, researcher, and educator Hannah Sackett, and a session with professional stoyteller Olivia Armstrong (who will bring seventeenth-century witch Anne Bodenham to life).

The exhibition catalogue, comprising seven extensively illustrated interpretative essays by the curatorial team, is available for purchase.

Selecting witch-related engravings from the Ashmolean’s extensive collection of prints with curator of Northern European Art An Van Camp in June 2017.

The exhibition team at the Ashmolean’s rooftop restaurant during a busy day of previews and private views on Thursday 30 August 2018. L-R: Sophie Page, Agnes Valencak, Harry Phythian-Adams, Heather Ackroyd, Dan Harvey, Sanjay Ghodke, Paul Williams, Xa Sturgis, Marina Wallace, Malcolm Gaskill, Annie Cattrell, Katharine Dowson, Owen Davies, and Catriona Pearson (not pictured: Ceri Houlbrook).

With renewed thanks to project sponsors the Leverhulme Trust, and exhibition sponsors the Bagri Foundation; the Wellcome Trust; the University of East Anglia; the Spellbound ‘magic circle’; Philip and Jude Pullman; Dasha Shenkman OBE, HonRCM; and others who wish to remain anonymous.