TEMPTATION V/S VIRTUE: ‘The Triptych of Temptation of St. Anthony’ by Hieronymus Bosch (1501) PART 1

 ‘Eccentric and secret genius that he was, Bosch not only moved the heart but scandalized it into full awareness.’ – Wendy Beckett

Welcome to the world of Hieronymus Bosch – a cryptic cipher in the world of art! Precious little is known about the man’s life. A Netherlandish artist, he is thought to have been born in the 1450’s. Yet what remains of this eccentric is his crazy imagination that has baffled critiques over the ages. His paintings are flooded with unique visual apparatus that bear profound metaphysical comprehension. Worlds collide in his canvas – be it the sacred and the profane or the natural and the divine. His genius leaves the shallow empty and the rooted yearning for more. Through today’s painting let’s penetrate into his brilliant mind and his wacky vision.

The subject is his favourite. It is the temptation of St. Anthony. Before we attribute the protagonist to the more famous namesake in our Archdiocese, let’s understand that the saint in consideration is St. Anthony Abbott (251 – 356 AD) and not St. Anthony of Padua (1195 – 1231)

Born in 251 CE, St. Anthony Abbott was widely venerated in the Middle Ages. One of the greatest figures of Christian asceticism, St. Anthony is held as the ‘father of all monks’. He lived most of his life as a hermit in the Egyptian deserts. During this period the devil inflicted upon him every affliction. This affliction in an abbreviated manner offered Bosch a wonderful opportunity to activate his imagination and invent a rich reserve of fantastical symbolism.

As it appears, the painting can be divided into 3 parts. The left panel depicts the flight and fall of St. Anthony. In the central panel the saint is subjected to a series of mental temptations while in the right panel the saint is portrayed in contemplation and prayer, oblivious to the persecutors that surround him. The secondary scenes are infused with demonic apparitions of diabolical significance. The narrative of the scenes is derived from ‘The Lives of the Fathers’ and ‘The Golden Legend’. (Medieval text that was translated in Dutch)

The left panel
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