- Roelandt Savery
- The Temptation of Saint Anthony
- oil on beechwood panel
- 17.5 x 26.7 cm.; 7 x 10 1/2 in.
In the collection of the present owner's family probably since at least the 1960s.
The Getty painting shows the saint praying in the bottom left corner in a rustic hut dwarfed by a magnificent alpine panoramic landscape. The insignificance of the saint in the Getty panel clearly indicate the main focus of that painting is the wider landscape, whereas the focus of the present panel is firmly upon the saint himself and the assorted diablerie that assail him. He is confronted by a winged demon dressed as a pilgrim, sitting astride a lobster with the head of a dodo,2 while a trumpet playing demon perches on his shoulder and a grylle with round table-top hat squats beside him. A devil, disguised as a woman in contemporary dress (symbolic of the temptation of lust) lurks in the darkened doorway behind a sleeping pig, the companion and attribute of Saint Anthony. In the foreground cabalistic texts and symbols, including a fountain of blood, blasphemously mock the rosary and crucifix of the saint. The latter three motifs all reoccur in the Getty painting. The more detailed handling together with the beech-wood support would suggest that the present panel is likelier to be the earlier of the two paintings. Savery's use of fantastic figures was clearly influenced to some degree by the example of his famous Netherlandish forbear Hieronymus Bosch, who had explored the privations of the hermit saints in similarly vivid pictorial terms. Another depiction of a hermit by Savery, that of c. 1605 in the National Gallery in Prague, also dates from this period and here another figure clad in the garb of a pilgrim appears in the foreground.3 While the subject is widespread in European art, Savery's treatment of it here reflects the wide-ranging interest in esoteric and non-Christian intellectual pursuits in Rudolf I's circle.
The architectural setting, reminiscent of a ruined chapel, is an element to be found in many of Savery's compositions. Similar refuges recur, for example, in the pair of small landscape panels sold New York, Christie's, 15 January 1985, lot 17, which Kurt Müllenmeister dates to around 1613.4
1. Dimensions 48.7 × 94 cm (19 3/16 × 37 in.), inv. no. 2008.73.
2. It seems likely that Savery saw a dodo in the flesh while he was in Imperial service in Prague, where one is recorded by Joris Hoefnagel as having been in the possession of Rudolf II. Whether it was still alive, or a stuffed specimen, is far from clear, but what is clear is that Savery was most taken with it, since he included dodos in many paintings throughout the course of the rest of his career.
3. K.J. Müllenmeister, Roelant Savery, Freren 1988, p. 203, cat. no. 31, reproduced.
4. Müllenmeister 1988, p. 272, cat. nos 165 and 166, reproduced p. 273 and 274, figs 165 and 166.