Follower of Hieronymus Bosch
Follower of Hieronymus Bosch

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Follower of Hieronymus Bosch
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
oil on panel
35 ¾ x 46 5/8 in. (90.7 x 118.4 cm.)
inscribed 'Expecta Dominum viriliter age et / confortetur cor tuum et sustine Dominu / Psalmo xxvi' (upper right, on the banderole); and inscribed ‘Domine quid multiplicati sunt qui tribulant me / multi insurgunt adversum me Psalmo ij’ (centre, on the banderole)
Cels collection, Uccle-les-Bruxelles.
Baron Joly, Brussels.
M.W. Frilling, Brussels; Giroux, Brussels, 1-2 March 1957, lot 271.
Acquired by the father of the present owner.
P. Lafond, Hieronymus Bosch, son art, son influence, ses disciples, Brussels and Paris, 1914, p. 71, as 'after Bosch'.
G. Unverfehrt, Hieronymus Bosch: Die Rezeption seiner Kunst im frühen 16. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1980, p. 287, no. 151, fig. 217, as 'Antwerp, 1530/40'.
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Un cabinet d'amateur, 27 June- 23 July 1937, no. 10.

Brought to you by

Imogen Jones
Imogen Jones

Lot Essay

Hieronymus Bosch was one of the first Netherlandish artists to depict the torment and temptations of the hermit Saint Anthony in such vivid pictorial terms. This painting, which dates to the mid-sixteenth century, was probably painted in Antwerp, demonstrating the far-reaching nature of the master’s influence. While Bosch had treated the subject in his triptych of The Temptation of Saint Anthony in Lisbon (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga) and in a small single panel in Madrid (Museo Nacional del Prado; now regarded as the work of an early follower), this painting in fact draws much of its inspiration from Bosch’s triptych of The Garden of Earthly Delights (fig. 1; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). The artist has assimilated various Boschian motifs and expanded the scene to the right, however, to create an original composition.

Bosch’s celebrated triptych of The Garden of Earthly Delights, which was probably commissioned by Count Engelbert II of Nassau-Breda (1451-1504), is recorded in 1517 as being on display at the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels. The numerous works it subsequently inspired prove that the triptych was clearly accessible and well known to patrons and artists alike. The painter of this Temptation may have made careful studies of the triptych itself, or seen other copies of it, especially the right wing depicting Hell, since numerous elements recur here. The ‘tree-man’ at upper left in this panel, for example, was one of Bosch’s most original and remarkable inventions. With a human head, his body is shaped like a broken egg or seed-pod, while his legs turn into gnarled tree trunks planted precariously in two small boats. On his head, he wears a flat disk on which bagpipes, commonly imbued with sexual connotations during the sixteenth century, are set. Around this instrument demons lead sinners by the hand, while inside the fractured structure of the tree-man’s body, which is pierced by the sharp thorns sprouting from his legs, an inn can be seen. Directly below this is a group of over-sized musical instruments. At the left, two figures have been crucified on a large lute and harp, while others crowd around to sing, their place in the music pointed to by the extended, barbed tongue of a frog-like demon. To the right of this group is a large upturned draailier (hurdy-gurdy). The large horse’s skull in the upper right of the painting was a recurring motif in Bosch’s oeuvre. Here again the painter appears to have used a detail from the Prado triptych, in reverse, replicating the large metal spike protruding from the skull’s eye from which hangs a key with a figure draped through the loop.

The figure of Saint Anthony, identifiable by the 'tau' (Greek letter ‘T’) cross, is accompanied by two banderoles inscribed with quotations from the Psalms relating to the saint’s own sufferings and at the same time serving as a message for the viewer. The scroll framing his head reads: ‘Lord, how many are my foes / How many rise up against me’ (Psalm 3); a plea answered above in the sky where the banderole exclaims: ‘Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: remain with the Lord’ (Psalm 26:14).
Fig. 1 Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1500 © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid /Bridgeman Images

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All