“Woman with Decapitated Wight”
Kopjie Van Der Eyck, 1537

This painting depicts an unknown woman with the decapitated head of an undead wight that she has killed, as well as the shortsword, held in her other hand, with which the horror was presumably dispatched. This falls into the category of “supernatural exterminator paintings” that flourished in the Amsterdam school ca. 1505-1587, though is is not nearly so well known as De Jong’s “Man with Necklace of Vampire Teeth” or Visser’s “Children with Speared Dire Rat.”

The subject of the painting is unknown, though research suggests it may be Anna Van Buren (fl. 1517-1541), who worked as a supernatural exterminator in Rotterdam. Van Buren was part of a subset of supernatural exterminators who were women; they were expected to deal with horrors that were notably female (like banshees) or male horrors that entered female spaces. There is an account from 1536 about a “wighte” that bedeveled the convent of St. Genevieve; whether this is the same, none can say.

It’s noteworthy that Anna Van Buren is wearing very practical, almost masculine, clothing–as befits the nature of her job. The short sword and decapitated head are believed to be props or replicas that were embellished by the artist; the wight in particular is clearly rendered by someone who has never seen one in real life.

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