Lot 8
  • 8

Follower of Hieronymous Bosch, circa 1550

300,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • The Temptation of Saint Anthony
  • oil on panel, with painted added strips of 1 cm on each side


Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644), Rome, by 1623;
Don Taddeo Barberini (1603–1647), Prince of Palestrina;
Thence by descent to his second son, Prince Maffeo Barberini (1631-1685) (as Pieter Bruegel the Elder);
Thence by descent to Cardinal Carlo Barberini, until at least 1704;
With P. & D. Colnaghi, London;
From whom acquired by a Swiss private collector, 1985;
From whom acquired by the present owner. 


G. Ring, "Eine Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius von Pieter Bruegel dem Aelteren", in Oud Holland, vol. 51, 1934 (as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder);
G. Arpino & P. Bianconi, L’opera completa di Bruegel, Milan 1967, p. 90, cat. no. 17, reproduced (as location unknown, with a rejected attribution to Pieter Bruegel the Elder); 
M. Lavin, Seventeenth Century Barberini Documents and Inventories, New York 1975, passim.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in extremely good condition. The panel is unbroken and only very slightly curved from top to bottom. The paint layer has never shown any instability and the panel is clearly unreinforced on the reverse. The varnish currently on the painting has yellowed, but all of the fine details are clearly visible. Although the colors would brighten considerably if the work were cleaned, no further information would really be gathered as a result. There are essentially no retouches to the surface. This is certainly an unusually well preserved picture.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In a fantastic rocky landscape teeming with a demonic rabble, the hermit Saint Anthony is meditating on the Holy Scriptures. He is identified by the 'tau' (Greek letter T) emblem on his cape, the symbol of the Antonine Order that bears his name, as well as the small bell hanging from his staff which references his role as a swineherd. His struggles with his ascetic spirituality are here depicted in the traditional Christian forms of attacks both by demons, or more specifically two legged grylles and other various fantastical and violent scenes. Behind him stands a hollow tree, the medieval symbol of the seat of evil-doing or alchemy. At the top of this is a small chapel-like structure which is being set ablaze beside an oversized candle. In the left background a personification of lust and greed plays out as a group of archers successfully pierce a bag of gold, the contents of which spill out into a spoon held by the outstretched arm of a man. A cross carrying skeleton appears to orchestrate the entire scene from his straddled position on a tree in the center of the action. Other clear allusions to earthly desires are scattered throughout the composition, such as the die surmounted on a demons head lower left as he walks into a tax collector or lawyer's office.

There is no doubt that the principal inspiration behind this lively panel was the work of the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch (1453–1516), who was the first to explore the theme of the hermit saints in such vivid pictorial terms. Compositions such as this have been associated in the past with the work of two of Bosch's principal followers, Jan Mandijn (circa 1500–60) and Pieter Huys (1519–84), but an attribution to neither seems very plausible. Huys' earliest work, another Temptation of Saint Anthony of 1547 in the Louvre, is of an altogether more articulate and restrained form of mannerism. Mandijn's only signed work, a Temptation of Saint Anthony in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem is perhaps closer in concept, but much freer in execution and style. 

The picture formed part of the illustrious Barberini collections, in whose various inventories it is recorded from as early as 1623 and through to 1694 (see provenance and inventory descriptions below).  The verso of the panel retains the inventory number "616" which corresponds with Maffeo Barberini's posthumous 1686 inventory. That 1686 inventory, along with an earlier Maffeo Barberini inventory from 1672, and a later 1692-1705 inventory of Cardinal Carlo Barberini's collection all list the panel as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and with palmi dimensions that match the present panel. Such an attribution was clearly misunderstood at the time, but does illuminate the pan-European desire for and proliferation of Northern painting of this type in the seventeenth century. 

Barberini inventory descriptions1:

Maffeo Barberini 1623, #33 "Le visione, e tentazioni di S. Antonio in tavola con le cornice di noce

Don Taddeo Barberini 1648-49, #487 "un cuadro in tavola con la tentazione di s.Antonio alto palmi doi e mezzo et largo 3 con cornice"

Cardinal Francesco Barberini 1649, #665, "un cuadro in cornice nera parte dorata figure in tavola S. Antonio con diversi diaboliche long  p.mi tre e alto doi e mezzo in circa"   

Maffeo Barberini 1655,  #8, "un cuador in tavola con S. Antonio con diversi tentazioni diversi mostri, cornice di Noce largo palmi tre, et alto due e mezzo"

Maffeo Bartberini 1672, #4 , "un cuadro con un S. Antonio con diversi Mostre in tavola alto e largo p.mi 2 ½  in circa con cornice di noce mano di Brugolo Vecchio"

Maffeo Barberini 1686, Folio 209 gauche #616   "un cuadro in tavola piu longo che largo p.i 2 ¼  alto2. in circa Le visione di S. Antonio Abaate con cornice di noche liscia, mano di Brugolo Vecchio"

Cardinal Carlo Barberini 1692-1704, # 358, "un sogno di S. Antonio con varie fantasme in tavola al: p.mi 3 ½  l: 4 cornice nera e oro dal Brugolo il vecchio"

Prince Urbano Barberini 1694, #31, "un cuadro in tavola longo p.mi 2 ½ inc a largo 2in c. rapresentanti S. Antoni che riceve le tentazioni diaboliche"

1. Lavin 1975, op. cit, passim.