BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)

Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony

Oil on panel, 131,5 x 119 cm (central), 131,5 x 53 cm (each wing)
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

This painting was possibly one of the works formerly belonging to the Escorial, bought by Damiano de Goes, the Portuguese painter, between 1523-1545.

Bosch's spiritual heroes were the saints who endured both physical and mental torment, yet remained steadfast. Among the saints, Bosch's favourite was Saint Anthony, the subject of his triptych The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

St Anthony (Anthony the Great, or Anthony the Abbot, 251-356) was a Christian saint and hermit, born in Upper Egypt. On the death of his parents he distributed his property among the poor and retired into the Egyptian desert where he remained in solitude for many years. He is generally regarded as the founder of monasticism. During an epidemic, said to be erysipelas, in Europe in the 11th century many cures were claimed in his name and the disease became known as St Anthony's fire. Anthony, like some other hermits, was subject to vivid hallucinations resulting from his ascetic life in the desert. These 'temptations' assume two forms in art, assault by demons and erotic visions.

The triptych features physical punishment on the left wing, a Black Mass in the centre, and the blandishments of food and sex on the right wing. St Anthony's triumph over such trials is mirrored by those of other hermit saints and by the Passion of Christ, whose arrest and carrying of the cross adorn the exterior of the Lisbon altarpiece.