David Teniers the Younger
After Sale of the 9th Auction
After Sale Price: € 12.640
David Teniers the Younger
Antwerp 1610 – 1690 Brussels
The Temptation of St. Anthony
Oil on canvas, relined
57 x 84 cm, with frame 78 x 103 cm
Provenance: Owner’s labels on the reverse from Dr. A. Berg.
This work depicts the temptation of St. Anthony, a pictorial theme that enjoyed great popularity from the Middle Ages onwards. Satan shows mirages to the saint to remind Anthony of the pleasures of life that he has given up because of his ascetic lifestyle. This work can be attributed to the workshop of the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger. Most of his oeuvre depicts images from the life of St Anthony and his temptation. A striking comparative example in a modified version is the painting of the same name, which was painted around 1645 and is now in Dresden (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, gal. no. 1079).
The action is set in a rocky cave. Saint Anthony in a long habit kneels praying before a crucifix standing on a piece of rock. Typical attributes of a hermit such as a skull, an hourglass, and other books on the floor in front of him are also shown. However, his gaze is cast backwards over his shoulder: a male figure crowned with horns, which can be identified as the devil, points with his right hand, fingernails sharpened into claws, to a woman in a luxurious robe holding a wine glass, positioned in the centre of the picture. At first glance, it may not be apparent here that she has bird feet with claws – so we are dealing with a demon-like creature here. Anthony’s gaze is directed at this very woman; however, the halo above his head already indicates that he will not give in to erotic temptation or that of wine. Behind the woman, in the darkened left corner of the picture, a seated figure is shown in front of the cave opening, holding a long staff with a burning object on it. On closer inspection, its face is revealed as a dog-like grimace with an elongated snout and pointed teeth.
In general, the cave is buzzing with bizarre animals and hybrid creatures, which give the scene a humorous-comic component rather than a frightening effect. Here we can see borrowings from Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) and his fantastic imagery. A spider-like creature hides above the saint; a little owl sits on the books in the foreground. In the upper part of the scene, above the heads of the figures, a bat, a dragonfly, and a fish creature are buzzing around. A crowd of dog-, rabbit-, and reptile-like creatures seem to have entered the cave in a kind of procession; the one closest to the saint is even tugging at its robe. A lute-playing human being also seems to have mingled with them. A crab creature sits in the central foreground, looking head-on at the viewer and introducing them to the painting. This group of animal creatures transforms the subject of the painting into an entertaining narrative with a well-thought-out composition and carefully placed colour accents that give the action a dynamic liveliness. Typical of works by Teniers the Younger is the brownish palette, which here already merges into golden ochre and thus corresponds to works from the painter’s golden age.
Helge Siefert, Zum Ruhme des Helden. History and Genre Painting of the 17th and 18th Century, Munich 1993.
David Teniers, in: Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1984.
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