The Markt of Bruges with horse carriage, Belgium

St. Anthony triptych Hieronymus Bosch

Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours brighter.

In 1495 Jheronimus Bosch painted the triptych of Saint Anthony. The symbol is based on monastic life. Antony lived on water and bread and filled his days with prayer, but was repeatedly tested by Satan.

In the triptych, the holy man is depicted four times. All kinds of demonic creatures plague the hermit with lusty lovers and punish him with decadent provocations. The devil harassed him day and night, even trying to seduce him into fornication as a woman, but to no avail.

“Pursue your dreams with integrity, success is abundant and there is enough for everyone”, was the special message of an at least predominantly cynical Jheronimus Bosch.

St. Anthony triptych Left panel


St Anthony 1

Antonius is depicted a total of four times in the triptych. On the top left panel, the hermit flies through the air on the back of a hybrid monster.

The journey through trial and error is thematized by Bosch as a demonic event in which the devil personally participates.


St Anthony 2

At the bottom of the left panel we see a second version of the hermit, supported by some monks after falling from the sky in the same panel at the top.

His parents were wealthy enough to deliver him from this humiliating exile full of harassment, but as a faithful believer, Antony persisted by not being part of the aristocracy.


St Anthony 3

On the right panel, Antony is again seduced by the devil, this time in the guise of a masturbating lady. The naked, bathing woman is a prostitute who satisfies herself, the older woman with the green robe is a matchmaker.


St Anthony 4

Antonius is depicted for the fourth time on the central panel. He kneels before the remains of a tower. Next to him are hybrid monsters, half human, half animal, music playing monsters and strange dwarfs.

The devilish temptress is not naked here, but beautifully dressed in a richly decorated garment and explicitly kneels down next to Anthony. The money bowl in her hand betrays her slutty existence.

However, Antonius does not pay attention to the figures and looks at the viewer of the painting. His fingers point to the darkest part of the scene, a niche containing a crucifix with a priest and Jesus on the cross.


the owl

The owl is a smart animal, what about an owl chick? The little owl gets wise!

On the central panel is a black-clad man with an owl on his head. The owl appears in many of Bosch’s paintings and symbolizes a sin that cannot tolerate daylight. The owl can see in the dark, and can see something for which others are blind.

The nocturnal animal was thought to have dark powers, such as the bat and the toad. On the other hand, the owl also appears as the sharp-sighted animal, both day and night, who looks at the world contemplatively and sees how everything goes.

That is why we see the owl a lot as a vignette of scientific publishers and bookshops, such as the logo of Tripadvisor.


Tau cross

The idea that a cross can repel vampires has been conceived in the movie industry, but where’s the mustard from?

The main icon of Antonius as the founder of monastic life is the Greek capital T and always returns to his habit. The Tau cross represents the horizon, the place where heaven and earth meet, the landing site of the objective and the starting platform of the subjective.

All temptation must be countered by Saint Anthony, who uses his Tau cross to ward off the vision. He combines his weakness with the power of the cross. This ancient ritual probably also fueled Hollywood culture when working out the first Vampire films.


the pig

Pigs, too, were also branded in the 15th century to ensure that no one abused them.

Anthony is often depicted in the company of a pig. In the Middle Ages, pigs roamed freely. They ate the urban waste, keeping rats and plague at bay.
Although pork was eaten and kept as pets, pigs were considered unclean. The pig also refers to gluttony, laziness and superficial sexual pleasure.


St Anthony triptych Central panel

St Anthony triptych Right panel


Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali also had his own version of Saint Anthony since 1946.

Antonius is standing here in the front left, muscular and naked. In his right hand he holds a cross to ward off temptation, with the other hand he leans on the rock of faith.

A parade of elephants led by a lusty horse approaches Antonius. The elephants carry objects representing sexual seduction, a statue of a naked woman with her breasts, an obelisk as a phallus symbol, a temple as a symbol of vaginal time with a naked torso and a phallic tower.

Is Anthony strong enough to dislodge his vision through his endearing gesture and the rock of faith upon which he leans, or will he be overrun by this caravan of pleasure that threatens him?


St Anthony triptych Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Spain owns most of Bosch’s works, but the Antonius triptych hangs in Portugal.

The original altarpiece The Temptation of Saint Anthony , signed by Jheronimus Bosch, was painted between 1495 and 1500, and is located in the National Museum of Ancient Art (MNAA) in Lisbon.

There are about 20 copies of the work, these come from his studio or from elsewhere. Sometimes these are exact copies, such as the replica in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.