Journal Article

Woodcuts and Witches: Ulrich Molitor’s <i>De lamiis et pythonicis mulieribus,</i> 1489–1669

Natalie Kwan

in German History

Volume 30, issue 4, pages 493-527
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghs077
Woodcuts and Witches: Ulrich Molitor’s De lamiis et pythonicis mulieribus, 1489–1669

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De lamiis et pythonicis mulieribus, ‘On Witches and Female Soothsayers’, is a witchcraft treatise written in 1489 by Ulrich Molitor. In a dialogue of ten chapters, Molitor, his patron Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, and Conrad Schatz, chief magistrate of Constance discuss the powers of witches, ultimately concluding that they are generally products of demonic illusion. De lamiis was the first illustrated treatise on witchcraft, but its images do not always correspond with the dialogue’s content because they drew on contemporary visual sources and acquired independence. Thus, Molitor’s woodcuts also shed light on the developing witch stereotypes in both word and image. Remarkably, forty-three editions of De lamiis were printed in the period 1489–1669—more editions than the extensively-studied Malleus Maleficarum. After 1460, all but two editions of the Malleus were published in anthologies containing De lamiis. This raises questions about the significance of the Malleus and other demonological treatises in witchcraft history, and allows us to explore the ways in which witchcraft treatises were read and understood. This article presents the first comprehensive study of De lamiis’s printed history. Although historians tend to interpret demonological treatises as fixed representations of learned attitudes to witchcraft, De lamiis shows that no work was immutable. The forty-two editions of De lamiis reveal a constantly changing set of ideas and images, both reflecting and influencing witchcraft beliefs. This holistic approach allows us to study the demonological treatise in a new light.

Keywords: De lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus; Ulrich Molitor; visual culture; witchcraft in art; print history

Journal Article.  12973 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: European History

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