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The Temptation of St Anthony
Artist Teniers, David, II (Flemish painter, 1610-1690)
Date Earliest probably about 1630
Date Latest 1690
Paintings of the Temptation of St Anthony make up a significant proportion of Teniers's oeuvre, and constitute the largest group amongst his religious works. The artist explored the theme throughout his career and over a period of thirty years, from around the mid-1630s to the mid-1660s, produced between one and two hundred variations on the subject. Teniers re-used and adapted the same iconography and motifs again and again. The panel at Brodick contains much imagery that reappears in variation in other works. St Anthony is represented as an old man in monk's habit, with the Greek letter tau on his shoulder. He is shown in a dark grotto, signifying the tombs he withdrew to as a hermit, the meagre furnishings of which include an hourglass (held tauntingly by one of the demons), books and a skull - references to his learning and devotion to monastic life, with its ideals of endless contemplation of eternity and frailty of human life. A flask of water, here on the window sill, was commonly used by Teniers as a symbol of Anthony's asceticism. Popular motifs employed in countless other paintings include demons in form of lions, serpents and dragons, some dressed in monk's habits, as well as other creatures associated with the devil, such as frogs, bats, crabs and 'serras' or flying fish.
The unusual motif of a defecating egg, bearing a chicken's head and feet, appears in nearly all of Tenier's 'Temptations' - here shown fouling the saint's drinking water, perched on the rim of the jug.