The Temptation of Saint Anthony
A brief Description
The painting evolves anti-clockwise, meaning against time. Horizontally divided into two parts or regions, does it show above silence
and expanse, below constriction and turmoil. The Saint sits on the dividing line and observes with a worried expression the colourful
procession. He has made his home on the roof of a ruined temple and heeds neither his friend the dog nor the angel who offers him
with slight exasperation an egg. Far away the polestar is reflected in the wide bay, the star itself and the Great Bear are clearly seen in
the evening sky. There floats, pale behind clouds and of an unreal size, a balloon with a gondola. In it reclines an elegant gentleman
with crossed legs. He wears a top-hat and holds the rudder lightly in one hand.
Here the painting's first allegory, and perhaps its most enchanting, becomes apparent. The balloon is in reality an egg and the gondola
a nutshell. Seated in it is the Lord of the Universe, thing smallest and largest at once, beginning and end of all matter and thought, this
The egg in its simple perfection has been since oldest times a symbol for the Mystery of Creation. Piero della Francesca painted it, tied
to Aphrodite's shell, above the head of the Madonna col il Bambino. In Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights it is carried at the exact
centre by one of those archetypes that dwarf Freud's stratagems by comparison. Holbein the Younger painted it in the Adoration of
the Shepherds as a pale moon and in the Adoration of the Magi as a bright sun. And Blake showed it in its last stage: a small angel
climbing out of the broken shell into a new and magnificent world.
The white town, as a first station of the journey, stands at the border between dream and reality. Its occupants are all asleep. Except
the small band of travellers that is just pushing through a narrow gorg. It is guarded by a winged dragon who will devour some and, it
stands to reason, let some pass.
Nearby, behind a thorny hedge, spreads a lovely garden, alive with flowers and animals. There a satyr, half man half beast, sits under
a fountain-of-life and drinks with happy abandon the holy waters.
To the left starts the procession. An old man, grey and a bit gloomy, holds the hand of a young boy who walks lightly along, unaware
of possible dangers. For example the squat fowler who stands in his way, holding a shotgun, his cruel face twisted into an ugly grin.
Next comes a group that seems to be related. At its centre struts the mighty media-boss, recognized by the old newspaper in his
hat-band and the masks on the lapels of his coat. He presents a naked woman to the randy crowd, namely the one that incessantly
invites us to buy mountains of useless consumer goods and by whose superficial beauty legions of housewives are measured to their
lasting disadvantage. Above stands a hunchbacked entertainer and shows a mirror to the people. He wears a dog collar, meaning that
he can easily be pulled back if he ever dares to go too far. Below him squats a chimpanzee, splattered all over with colour, holding a
paintbrush in one feckless paw. He is the master of modern art or, in short, the Mob Art Monkey who almost, but not quite,
succeeded to annihilate Great Art. At the foot of the stair hovers the media boss' favorite vassal, the defaming muckraker. He has
stuck his pen, instead behind his ear, between his legs and thus guarantees his master the highest circulations.
Beside the stair a small group of content boozers has momentarily escaped the procession. Which is proof that people with good
intentions, provided circumstances are fairly peaceful, can always find some happiness in life. The same is true for the two lovers at
the very edge of the painting. Yet all are well advised to heed the white dog. He sits under the chair of his master and stares with
attentive eyes at the little angel on the wall. He has recognized him, knows his mission, understands the adversities and dangers of life,
the need to be always on guard.
The angel holds on its extended hand a shrike and between the legs a black die. Feared by man, is he notwithstanding an integral part
of Creation. His die falls without consideration of age or position; the number seven is since old the symbol of the scythe.
The working-class family is shabbily dressed, the man exceptionally big and strong. Though he looks tired and dejected, those in
power should never underestimate the strength that is hidden in his tall body. His wife puts an arm around him affectionately, but
stares with an angry and bitter expression into the past where only toil and injustice came her way. Their child has a wooden head, but
the little green twig sprouting out of it is a sign of hope, the possibility to escape ignorance and so into a better future.
In the wheel barrow pushed by the poor worker sit two men.
One is the scientist who cracks with an arrogant expression on his infantile face the Egg of Creation. And while he finds out what it
holds he has it forever destroyed. The other passenger is the bureaucrat who stares with utter fascination at his latest instruction as to
how far a banana should be bent. Both men seem to take their free ride for granted, yet would be well advised to have some doubts in
The little slant-eyed fellow sells mass-produced tin mice, so many that by now nobody knows anymore what to do with those that fell
apart after a short-lived existence.
The old and ruined temple with the frescoes and the goldfinch on the central traverse was once dedicated to Aphrodite, the Goddess
of Love. Though mankind has long ago ceased to take care of the beautiful building, the Goddess herself is miraculously still present.
She stands on a sea-green cloth, her long hair is wet as if she has only this very moment stepped out of Kythera's foaming waves. On
a crest floats an apple, once given to her in a famous beauty contest. She holds the hand of the White Knight, to all appearance intent
to lead him out of the soft shadows of her temple into the glaring daylight. Where he must, by ancient custom and decree, confuse the
terrible windmills, a task that seems to lesser souls an impossible mission.
At the feet of the Goddess, and in sharp contrast to her virginal beauty, marches an ugly cripple with big arms and butcher's hands. In
a basket he carries tools of torture, in a cage a rat with sharp teeth. He embodies mankind's lowest instincts and darkest desires. His
face is smooth, he is not easily detected. And not for nothing does he walk alongside the instrument of war, a murderous iron toy
horse. Which is held by a pale old warrior with furious eyes who presses it hard against his armoured balls. He has abandoned the
sword long ago and delivers death and destruction with a stroke of his pen. His passenger and associate is the global hoodlum who
keeps his balance by holding to the warrior's helmet. He carries a sack of gold under his elegant coat, the expression of his strange
face is both complacent and cunning. He is not only the unscrupulous arms-merchant, but embodies all those who destroy man and
nature with their insatiable hunger for riches and power.
In the shadows prowls a hooded assassin with a long dagger hidden in his brown cloak. His eyes stare cold and cruel, the corners of
his mouth are pulled downwards in utter contempt of our humanist values, our Christian culture. He holds out a puny green egg to the
The old priest, on the other hand, gazes a bit forlornly ahead. He probably knows that the old has soon to make place for the new,
that his house needs a complete overhaul to stay afloat.
The warrying couple are a particularly sad chapter. The love and respect both had once for each other are long gone. They live
together by force of necessity but have in their hearts long separated. What is left are booze and insults, hate and contempt.
The young couple are youth par excellence. They have lifted themselves, at least for the moment, far above the common crowd. But
this postion is not without danger, because the stilts on which the boy stands are rickety and only superficially mended. The girl sits
with an exstatic smile on the boy's shoulders, holding a half eaten apple in her hand. The fruit is bright-red covered with white dots,
and it seems as if the boy has eaten too much of it, because he stares with utter horror into the abbyss before him.
Further back a small group has quietly abandoned the procession and escapes over the high wall behind the temple into the garden
with the fountain-of-life. An open cage has been left next to the ladder on which a man with a red garter climbs carefully upwards.
And careful he should be because the last rung, the ninth, is defect and could cause his fall at the last moment. His pregnant wife holds
out a helping hand, his small son clings to his mother's dress. All look quite happy and content, except the little bird on the boy's hand
which seems somewhat worried by the new-won freedom.
The king plays a tune on his weird bagpipe while looking over his shoulder, probably in the hope that everybody follows along. And
everybody does, which is truly strange since he produces nothing but hot air. He too wears a garter, but on the wrong leg with a
dagger stuck into it. Which means that he is only initiated into the games of power and intrigue, and nothing else.
The blue woman is a representative of the new breed of females intent on challenging male supremacy. And though they are willing to
abandon their femininity for this goal, they will find it hard to live up to the games of power that are played so brutally and without
The money lender is a most disquieting fellow. His face looks bland, well-bred and intelligent. He holds an abacus under his arm as a
sign of his profession. His tentacles creep slowly into all directions, around the leg of the screaming wife, into the purse of the king,
towards the calf of the blue woman.
The blind fool beats his hourglass without abandon. His name is Time, he walks incessantly ahead and cares for nothing and nobody.
The dark city is the underworld, in this life and the next. Here the heartless whore and drink, scheme and scuffle, rob and stab, and
have never laid an eye on the Beauty of Creation. And here they will find themselves one day in their timeless, self-inflicted limbo that
is nothing but a mirror image of their heartless deeds.
The octagonal garden by contrast is the highest possible form of human existence.
Under the lantern by the jetty hangs a timetable, indicating that the traveller may choose, if necessary, the right moment for his or her
The ship seems uncommonly large. On closer look it becomes apparent that she floats. Her name is Alba, meaning the first light
before sunrise. Next to her soars a magpie, mediaeval symbol of the human soul. She accompanies the ship and its passenger towards
the heavenly egg.
Once arrived there the circle has been closed.
The painting's frame needs to be read clockwise. Shown are the Four Ages of Man. The Sun stands for the Golden Age, the Moon for
the Silver Age, the Star for the Bronze Age and the Four Apocalyptic Horsemen for the Iron Age.