Alastair Sooke, art critic of the Daily Telegraph, discusses the cultural history of witches in this piece for the BBC website. He points out that common images that we associate with witches (that they can turn people into animals, for example) derive from Greek mythology, and that they can foretell the future come from the Bible. But he points to the Renaissance as the period that really formed our modern notion of witches, and to one man--the artist Albrecht Duerer--as the person who created the archetype of the witch. Duerer, says Mr. Sooke, created the duality of the modern witch, who is invariably female.
In a pair of hugely influential engravings, Dürer determined what would become the dual stereotype of a witch’s appearance. On the one hand, as in The Four Witches (1497), she could be young, nubile and lissom – her physical charms capable of enthralling men. On the other, as in Witch Riding Backwards on a Goat (c 1500), she could be old and hideous.
Where did Duerer get his ideas? Possibly from other artists, including Andrea Mantegna. The invention of the printing press (15th century) allowed such ideas to spread quickly. By the beginning of the Enlightenment, belief in witchcraft and witches began to drop off, but artists and writers still found witches an interesting theme, and that theme continues today. And she is still almost always a woman, historically a target for societal blame and legal sanction. More here.