The Temptations of Saint Anthony, Bosch

The Temptations of Saint Anthony, Bosch
The Temptations of Saint Anthony, Bosch

Throughout the history of art, many works that were considered original turned out to be copies, this fact is not unusual for experts since on many occasions there is not enough information about the piece or even the own author.

This is the case that concerns us here, The triptych of the temptations of San Antonio made by Jheronimus Bosch better known as El Bosco. For a long time, the work that is now preserved in the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon was believed to be a copy of another identical triptych, kept in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It was precisely the historian Larry Silver from the University of Pennsylvania who determined that the Philadelphia work was an earlier (16th century) copy of the Lisbon one.


In reality, the experts have not been able to determine an exact date for the piece, however, they all seem to agree that the work must have been carried out in an intermediate stage of the artist's production, perhaps between 1490 or the early years of the 16th century.

The triptych has a religious theme, when closed, and as was customary in the Flemish tradition, two panels made in grisaille are shown, representing the scenes of the Arrest and of Christ climbing Calvary with the cross on his back.

In the first one, the main scene -the arrest- hasbeen relegated to the background while in the foreground appears San Pedro with Malco. The artist used the same procedure in the panel of the Ascent to Calvary, the main scene is not that of Jesus Christ - he appears in the background together with Veronica who rinses his face - but that of the good and bad thief who appear confessing.

Once the piece opens we find the main theme, the temptations of Saint Anthony, a theme that had been very recurrent since the 10th century as it shows the dichotomy between Good and Evilas a fight of opposites that represent Christ and Satan.

In the central panel of the triptych we find Saint Anthony the Abbot inside a kind of half-destroyed tower or temple in which the Saint kneels before a crucifix that appears illuminated and turns his face towards the viewer; around it we find all sorts of perversions, in the foreground appears a black mass, officiated by a priestess and by a devil who has been represented as a pig with a chasuble. For his part, in the panel on the right, Bosch has chosen the theme of The Temptations of Saint Anthony. In it, Saint Anthony is surrounded by sinners who are actually strange demonic figures. In the foreground, we find a completely naked woman who has been identified as the queen of the devils. The panel on the left has been reserved to represent the flight and fall of the Saint. The table is divided into two scenes, above San Antonio is flying along with a cloud of demons and below istended by two monks after the devil dropped it.

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