First recorded by Athanasius of Alexandria, the Temptation of St Anthony details the actions, teachings and many sufferings of Anthony the Great, an Egyptian, and one of the early Church Fathers. Inspired by a phrase in the Gospel of Matthew: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me," the Tempation of St. Anthony became a popular legend in thirteenth-century Europe. Many of the more notable examples appear to deal with a passage in which Anthony, having recently left his parents and all of his worldly goods to pursue the life of a monk, descends into a cave where he is tempted by demons.
Carrington´s version could not have won the competition. The jury was focused on pleasing Lewin with some horrific demons for his movie, Bel Ami, loosely based on the novel by nineteenth-century French author Guy de Montpassantl. In Carrington´s large painting, St. Anthony is represented as a frail old man who seems to disappear within himself under an umbrella-like monastic robe “bleached out by the vagaries of the weather” in her own words. The Saint is presumably sitting in the Egyptian desert, the Nile River flowing from the upper right. By her own account of the painting reported by Dr. Solomon Grimberg, his left hand points at the Queen of Sheba and her servants and “the bald-headed girl in the red dress combines female charm and the delights of the table. The mixture of the ingredients has overflowed and taken a greenish and sickly hue to the fevered vision of St Anthony, whose daily meal consists on withered grass and tepid water with an occasional locust by way of an orgy.”
This painting was exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1948 during her solo exhibition in the prestigious New York gallery. Commenting on her Saint Anthony, Leonora Carrington, eternally humorous and cryptic said: “The picture seems pretty clear to me, being a more or less a literal rendering of St Anthony complete with pig, desert and temptation. Naturally, one could ask why the venerable holy man has three heads, to which one could always reply, why not?”
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