Dürer’s first dated engraving-and one of his most puzzling-depicts four nude women performing a mysterious ritual. The artist’s interest in classical antiquity prompted various interpretations of their identity as mythological or allegorical figures. However, since the devil in the doorway and the skull and bone on the floor suggest a malevolent gathering, the women have been primarily seen as witches.
Dürer’s public representation of the nude female form in such an equivocal manner would have appealed to his humanist circle of friends interested in deciphering such worldly images. Simultaneously, the print comments on prevailing negative moral beliefs associated with female nudity. As the women are seduced into performing the devil’s bidding, their provocative appearance in turn lures the male viewer into temptation.