Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

"Go out and see" Saint Anthony is reported to have said. It might be a useful lesson for art teachers to impart to their students, and the story of this ascetic and his trials in the desert has been a favourite of artists for centuries. On one hand a vehicle for the depiction of the triumph of piety over evil, on the other for the temptations of the flesh in the form of phantom women. Saint Anthony was an Egyptian Coptic but I have never come across a work that shows him as middle-eastern in appearance, and the phantoms are invariably Caucasian as well. Mmmm...he thinks...I have just given myself an idea! Maybe I should forget this blogging rubbish and get busy on the 'real' Anthony with some Nubian goddesses in the bomb shelled Libyan desert...

But before I do, some of my favourites...we begin with Paolo Veronese...

Paolo Veronese, Temptation of St Anthony, 1552-3, Oil on canvas, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Caen

An interesting comparison with the earlier work on paper below. From the fairly 'mainstream' Renaissance style he has gone straight for the jugular (so to speak) in this Mannerist masterpiece of chiaroscuro and composition. Anthony is about to get pounded with the hoof of a goat while the female figure claws his palm with her nails while languorously dangling an exposed breast over his eyes as demonic figures lurk in the background. It's almost like Saturday night at the Wyndham pub...

Paolo Veronese, Temptation of St Anthony, 1552, Pen and chalk on paper, Musee du Louvre, Paris

Felicien Rops says of his version: " Here is more or less what I wanted Satan to say to the good Anthony. I want to show you that you are mad Anthony, to worship your abstractions! That your eyes may no longer search in the blue depths for the face of Christ, nor for incorporeal virgins! Your Gods have followed those of Olympus. But Jupiter and Jesus did not carry off eternal Wisdom, nor Venus and Mary eternal Beauty! Even if the Gods are gone, Woman remains. The love of Woman remains and with it the abounding love of Life."

Felicien Rops, Temptation of St Anthony, 1878, Etching and aquatint, Felician Rops Museum, Namur, Belgium.

Here, an almost comic Satan displaces Christ from the crucifix, and replaces him with a engaging nude. Rops nearly always laces his eroticism with a generous dose of humour. The normal INRI at the top of the cross has been turned into EROS. Perhaps Saint Anthony is more horrified of Rop's imagination than he is of the elements that make up the picture? It is interesting to see the preparatory drawing for the female figure, and the change that has occurred in the final print. I like the shroud ringing the breasts, and the garter and black stay ups are always a nice touch...

Felicien Rops, study for Temptation of St Anthony, 1878, Etching, Felician Rops Museum, Namur, Belgium.

Max Ernst takes a different tack and looks at the second of Saint Anthony's temptations where he was attacked by visions of demons. Influenced by the extremes of Matthius Grunewald and Hieronymus Bosch his hallucinatory vision allows for some of his favourite motifs to appear. Painted in 1945 it reflects on the horrors of war. A good reason not to venture into the desert alone...

Max Ernst, Temptation of St Anthony, 1945, Oil on canvas, Wilhelm-Lehmbruck Museum, Duisberg, Germany

...plus my own humble version (with apologies to Nan Goldin for the appropriation of the blonde). It just fitted perfectly! Almost got the Coptic bit right though...

Bob Georgeson, Temptation of St Anthony. 2010, Photomontage

No comments:

Post a Comment