the temptation of saint anthony

Demons and Saint Anthony

Saint Anthony lived in Egypt during the late 3rd into the early 4th century. He is celebrated for inspiring organized Christian monasticism as we know it today, earning himself epithets such as Anthony the Great and Anthony the Abbot. Yet, these titles did not come from doing nothing. He was one of the first monks to go into the Egyptian wilderness as a religious recluse to focus on his prayer and fasting.

landscape st anthony

The Devil Gets Jealous

If surviving in the desert alone wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Devil decided to test Anthony’s faith and decision to give up his earthly possessions. St. Anthony’s biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote about the numerous supernatural temptations, both in visions and physical attacks, that St. Anthony experienced. The monk encountered demons appearing as all sorts of terrifying creatures who beat him, tempted him to break from ceremonial fasting, and tried to seduce him with women. Despite all the temptations, he never gave up on his faith.

landscape st anthony

When Was This Story Told

His story became one of the most popular subjects of art and literature throughout Europe. During the height of the story’s popularity in the 15th and 16th century, the topic allowed artists to create scenes that were both fantastic and frightening.

Demons Will Invade Your Home

Hut with St. Anthony

To portray the chaotic story in a visual medium, the artist captures two events in one painting. In the lower right, St. Anthony sits in a shabby lean-to in the woods while demons invade the encampment from all sides.



Demons Are In the Air

As you take a deeper look, you find more of these creepy figures causing mayhem. In what would otherwise be a peaceful autumn sky with fluffy clouds, the demons carry St. Anthony up into the air where they continue their attacks.

Demons In the Sky with St. Anthony

The artist contrasts these hellish acts with what would otherwise be a charming landscape that extends far into the distance. He’s gone into painstaking detail to include multiple small cities along the waterway and the green woods between them. This detailed, naturalistic representation of landscape is one of the major clues pointing to this artist’s prolonged study with Bruegel the Elder.

 

demons looking for st anthony

This painting hopefully inspires you to get creative this Halloween season and let your mind run a bit wild, if it hasn’t already this year. And if you’re looking for the perfect demon costume, then this painting has plenty of examples to help get you started.  

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Sarah Leary

Sarah lives and works in DC. She earned her M.A. in art history from American University in 2019 and specializes in American art.
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