Oil on panel
17 1/2 x 22 inches (44.5 x 56 cm)
Signed: D. Teniers
Sale Lempertz, Cologne, October 1904
Collection K.R. Alfred Weiss, Vienna, his sale Dorotheum November 30, 1971
Private Collection, Vienna
Smith, Catalogue raisonné. Vol. IX Suppl., p. 409, no. 13
David Teniers the Younger was notably the most famous and renowned member in a family of painters and draftsmen. Although Teniers was prolific, and painted nearly every type of picture, he was best known for his small cabinet pictures and rustic genre scenes. It was these rustic genre paintings that were most coveted by great collectors, amongst whom were Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and Charles I of England.
Teniers became a master in Antwerp in 1632, and worked there before settling in Brussels in 1651. He was the court painter to the Archduke, who was one of the most reputable connoisseurs and collectors of paintings and decorative art. As court painter and “keeper,” Teniers traveled to England in 1650-55 to purchase pictures from Charles I’s collection; these were then sold off by the Commonwealth.
Our picture, The Temptation of St. Anthony, was one of several the artist painted in which he combined the biblical themes of Saint Anthony’s Temptation and the Seven Deadly Sins. In this particular painting, executed in the mid-seventeenth century, Saint Anthony sits quietly, endeavoring to resist the fantastical pandemonium surrounding him. Teniers places Saint Anthony near the grotto entrance, but his head is turned from the hopeful wooden cross and from his hands clasped in prayer. Pictorially, the figure of Saint Anthony is enveloped by the various creatures scattered across the space, which speaks, metaphorically, to the dimension of the Saint’s temptation.
In the hierarchy of vices, Sloth is first, and here is represented perched on a donkey and resting her head in her hand. Her features and gesture physically represent the psychological apathy that can lead to deadly idleness. Next to her is a fat-bellied Gluttony, who rides a pig-like monster, and raises his glass of wine coyly to Saint Anthony. Anger fiercely shakes a broom from the far left corner, her hair rising from behind in fury, and Avarice sits nearby, weighing the gold that surrounds her in bulging money sacks. In the center of the picture, Lechery and Pride stroll toward the Saint, represented as a pair of lovers and distinguished by their luxurious dress amidst the squalor of the grotto. Everywhere, various demons prance about or fly overhead, contributing to the dank, nightmarish atmosphere. However, a stream of light cuts through the dark gloom, and the curved shape of the grotto entrance rises up over the scene with the totemic power of an altar. We are convinced that Saint Anthony will withstand the confusion of human lusts swirling around him, and that his moral aptitude will prevail in this cave of evil.