'The Temptation of Saint Anthony'

'The Temptation of Saint Anthony'
Salvador Dalí: "The Temptation of St. Anthony" (1946), Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

The ultimate fable of sexual temptation. Saint Anthony was a Christian saint in Egypt who may have died around CE 356 (his monastery is here). His claim to fame is his sojourn in the desert, fending off Satan and all manner of monsters and demons. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the temptations included sex, for what else would the saint be fending off?

There is no sex in this painting of 1487-88, attributed to a 12- or 13-year-old Michelangelo; it is a color version of a Martin Schongauer engraving:

"The Torment of Saint Anthony," Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Around 1500, with the Reformation around the corner, the theme became popular among northern European painters such as Schongauer, Hieronymous Bosch and Matthias Grunewald. Below is a work by Flemish painter Pieter Huys, around 1547, when sex first got to the front of the line, with that rather fetching woman in front of him holding whatever it is. Has he noticed?

The Louvre

Below is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s preparatory drawing for his own version in 1556:

Photo: Henrietta Clare/Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Below are paintings from the 1600's by the Flemish Joos van Craesbeeck and Italian Salvator Rosa.

Joos van Craesbeeck "The Temptation of St. Anthony" (circa 1650), in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe
circa 1645

The story fascinated Flaubert and Félicien Rops (here), among others, and Salvador Dalí who had a field day with it (image at top).