A similar signed picture by Van Helmont was offered in these Rooms, 12 May 1992, lot. 96. Van Helmont must have been familiar with treatments of the same theme by his fellow countryman, David Teniers the Younger, of whom several depictions of the Temptation of Saint Anthony are known (see for example the one in Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, inv. no. 1079; and the one in Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. no. 1822).
From the end of the 15th Century, the Temptation of Saint Anthony had been a very popular theme among artists because of its fantastical elements. Saint Anthony, here kneeling in front of a block of stone resembling an altar on which several religious objects are placed, withstood any temptation or diabolical deceit, and therefore was considered a model for Christians to emulate.1
In contrast to Teniers, who more or less humanized his witches, apparitions and skeleton animals, both in appearance and behaviour, Van Helmont's infernal monsters and bizarre demonic creatures appear to remain in the 16th Century tradition. Moreover, the temptation in the form of a handsome but decently dressed young woman as she is portrayed by Teniers, offering the ascetic Saint a cup of wine, is replaced in Van Helmont's painting by a highly seductive, brightly illuminated, bare breasted Venus figure who, together with the abundance of roaming apparitions, embodies the ultimate temptation.
1. See for the subject of the Temptation of Saint Anthony M. Klinge, David Teniers, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp 1991, pp. 46, 134, 262, under cat. nos. 9, 41, 90.
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