About this artwork

Martin has created a highly original interpretation of the witches' meeting with Macbeth and Banquo from Shakespeare's tragedy 'Macbeth'. The supernatural figures fly out from a swirl of mist and streaks of lightning. The men's gestures convey their shock, isolated as they are from the large army winding into the far distance. This in turn melts into insignificance on Martin's cosmic stage, which serves as a reminder of the cataclysmic consequences of the encounter. A larger version of the painting was exhibited at the British Institution in 1820, but remained unsold. Later, however, Sir Walter Scott lamented that he could not afford it for Abbotsford.

John Martin

John Martin

Martin's vivid paintings of biblical, historical and literary themes, often on very large canvases, feature richly imaginative and spectacular settings for the human dramas depicted. The small scale of his figures contributes to the sense of them being overwhelmed by the landscape and forces surrounding them. Martin began his career as a painter of heraldry for a coach-builder in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He then worked in London as a painter on china and glass, before finally gaining acceptance as a history painter through the Royal Academy exhibitions in 1811. He also produced book illustrations and engravings.

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