The Temptation of St. Anthony has been an inspirational theme for many artists who wanted to capture man's continuous conflict with evil. Anthony was born in Egypt in the middle of the third century to wealthy parents. They died when he was about twenty. He inherited all their belongings but soon gave them up to lead a life of asceticism. He joined a group in the lower Nile and later moved further into the desert for complete solitude. He found an old fort and shut himself in.
During this time alone Anthony was tempted many times. He resisted by fasting, consciousness altering meditation, going without sleep and by beating himself. People brought him food which they threw over a wall of the fort. Some came to visit but he refused to see them. Other ascetics were so impressed by him that they set up huts nearby. Eventually he came out and appeared quite healthy.
He talked about his experience for a few years, describing the demons and beautiful women offered to him. But he succeeded over the weakness of the flesh with his willful spirituality. He went back to the desert again and moved into a cave on a mountain where he lived until his death. He received visitors who made the trip to see him and learn from him. A monastery was built at the same site.
Partial list of artists with a work titled The Temptation of St. Anthony:
Most of the paintings have a surreal form of subject matter limited only by the artist's imagination. In Max Ernst's painting, Anthony is visited by "hideous demons" and offered creature comforts and tempted by beautiful seductive women. Bosch, Huys, and Dali created similar paintings. Lelio Orsi's painting was more subdued with Anthony praying in the dark with demons peering from the background.
In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions minimalist painter Rabo Karabekian created a huge painting which he titled The Temptation of Saint Anthony. It is twenty feet wide and sixteen feet high. The entire canvas is painted a dark green with a vertical strip of fluorescent orange tape near one side from top to bottom. Rabo Karabekian receives a lot of negative criticism for its simplicity. He defends himself by stating that it took him many years of struggle to come up with the concept and that the vertical orange tape represents St. Anthony in relationship to his life.
Caroline William. Saints. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.
John Canaday. What Is Art? New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Breakfast of Champions New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1973
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Anthony (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01553d.htm)