Lot 17
  • 17

Roelandt Savery

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Roelandt Savery
  • The Temptation of Saint Anthony
  • oil on beechwood panel
  • 18.5 x 27.5 cm


Lady Cochran;

In the collection of the present owner's family probably since at least the 1960s.


The beech wood panel is completely flat and not cradled. The painting is in an excellent state of preservation seemingly with every original detail intact, even some of the extremely finely delineated wings of the various demons. There do not appear to be any mentionable restorations other than to an area in the lower right corner above the frogs. There are beginnings of two horizontal cracks at the left margin just below centre but they appear stable and not progressive. Sold in a carved and gilt wood frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The beechwood support and the style of this work suggest that it was painted during Savery's time in central Europe between 1603 and 1616. During this period he worked as court painter to Rudolf II of Prague, as well as travelling in Southern Germany and the Tyrolean Alps, and elsewhere in the uplands of Bohemia. He is recorded in Utrecht on the 6 January 1616, where he settled and remained until his death in 1639. This work is completely unrecorded, and appears to be one of only two treatments of this subject by Savery. The other, a signed and dated later work of 1617, is today in the collection of the Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 1).1

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.