MASTER of the Osservanza
(active 1430-1450 in Siena)

St Anthony Tempted by Gold

c. 1440
Tempera and gold on wood, 48 x 35 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1940, several panels, until then universally attributed to Sassetta, were reassigned by Longhi to another hand, today generally known as the Master of the Osservanza (active c. 1430-50). The most striking are scenes from the Life of St Anthony which were commissioned by the Augustinians. They held Anthony (251—356) in special esteem as the founder of Christian monasticism, whose example converted St Augustine (Confessions, Book VIII).

This panel depicts Anthony's second temptation on a rock-strewn path. The deep wilderness is uncanny, punctuated by fire-blasted trees and a sequence of still beasts — a rabbit, two deer, another rabbit — leading back to the sinister lake and the dark tower, surveyed by ominous crows. Anthony, now white-haired, throws up his hands in frozen horror. The focus of his gaze was originally a heap of diabolic riches, overpainted in a restoration.

The theme of Anthony's tribulations has called forth some of the greatest images in European art - from Bosch's Lisbon Triptych and Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, to the 20th-century artists Ensor and Beckmann. Yet the Sienese images remain perhaps the most 'schizoid' and inward of them all.