Saint Anthony in prayer

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Saint Anthony in prayer
Saint Anthony in prayer was one of Hieronymus Bosch’s favourite themes, since the temptations the saint underwent allowed him to paint the monstrous figures which appear so often in his work – the “nonsenses” which have brought the painter such fame.

Saint Anthony is pestered by an evil spirit

This scene takes place amid buildings, as in the rest of the series. It depicts the temptations which Saint Anthony underwent on Mount Colzim, pestered by an evil spirit who took on different forms. The saint lived on this mountain until his death in the year 356AD, aged 105. As is typical in Flemish painting, the location, a slope near the Red Sea to where the hermit retreated, is depicted as a lush garden rather than a desert. Saint Anthony, kneeling and propped up on a log, is wearing monk’s habit and has his head covered. Above his left shoulder we see a Cross of Tau, with which he is associated. His face and his open eyes fixed towards the heavens are framed by his hair and white beard. His hands are clasped together as in prayer.


Around him are small monstrous characters: three by the river bank in the centre, reading a book; a tonsured monk kissing a woman, both seated in front of a table; a monster with a dragon’s tail; a fantastical parrot; a broken egg with an anthropomorphic figure inside; a fish grabbing some arms, one of which is piercing it with a dagger; an archer; a three-headed monster riding on a bird; and another monster, sitting beneath a tree, reciting with his mouth open.

The river and the fire

The area of land where the saint sits is surrounded by a river in which a large rock, open and shaped like an arch, serves as a passage for nude characters. Next to this, the river is crossed by a bridge on which we see several men transporting a cone, encouraged by a monster. In the background, a house with a roof made of Tau Crosses is seen on fire. A man approaches this house with a ladder.

The cardinal’s patron

Saint Anthony was the patron saint of Cardinal Granvelle, Antoine Perrenot, who was depicted in other works alongside the saint. This explains why the third Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, commissioned the series in 1567 – now lost – is only made of three tapestries, leaving this one out.

Series Four tapestries after Hieronymus Bosch

Second tapestry in the series

Model Inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch

Manufacture Unknown workshop, Brussels, before 1560

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 293 x 352 cm

Location Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Origin Collection of Caridinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle

On display Halls of Honour

National Heritage Inv. n. 10004011


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