Just to get this out of the way, I am aware that the general vibe of most paintings of the Temptation of St. Anthony is like, DECADENT HORROR to denote the ultimate BAD END of temptations; all the horned pig-ferrets are more like a representation of “the wages of sin is DEATH” than like, an actual medieval desire to hang out with pig-ferrets. THAT SAID, literally everyone who has ever painted the Temptation of St. Anthony has actually no idea what temptation looks like.
Let us begin.
When in doubt, painters of St. Anthony’s temptation always go for MEGA BUSY. This is a mistake. Like, the babe resting on his back is one thing, but who is tempted from his prayers a possum-man with an owl hat and a lute? Or…a drawing of a severed foot?
DEVIL THE FIRST: “The gorgeous women aren’t working, what should we send next to tempt this holy man to forget his vows?”
DEVIL THE SECOND: “DEFINITELY a man who is only a head and two very small legs wearing an elaborate turban. If that doesn’t do the trick, I don’t know what will. And also a vole that can read.”
DEVIL THE FIRST: “You have such a flair for these things.”
DEVIL THE SECOND: “Oh, stop.”
I…it’s no knock on her appearance, as the babe is right comely, but if you are going to send only a single woman to tempt an actual saint, maybe do not dress her up like Idelette Calvin in head-to-toe sober black. Ooh, she’s carrying a…a small dove. Does that turn you on?
No, okay, I GET it, the dudes fighting on snails in the upper-left-hand corner represent a constant battle against sloth and lust, it’s ALLEGORICAL, FINE, but also, who is tempted by a scowling toddler that is attempting to eat its own arm? Whence the wagons? Whence the pack animals? “Ooh, consign your soul to the devil and you can have this pantsless guy in a canoe, or a nun with an owl on her lumpy back, or this injured dog.” This is the worst white elephant offer I can possibly think of, The Devil! DO BETTER.
Oh, this is SOLID. This looks like the cover art for the sort of CD my friend Nicole’s boyfriend Jeff would have kept in his locker sophomore year. The pig standing on books is sort of weird, but that’s a minor point. A glorious, triumphant sex Valkyrie pushing a bloody Jesus off the cross is metal as heck and I give this temptation an A.
“Kiss me, Fuzzy Lobster Devil.” This is the worst temptation of them ALL. It’s just evil Care Bears and a furry crawdad? No one is tempted by this, not even the most committed of perverts.
THANK YOU. Okay, someone is FINALLY keeping it simple. ONE LADY. ONE TEMPTATION PER SAINT. She’s babely, she’s wearing pink so you know she’s attractive, she has a slit up the thigh so you know she’s good to go, and she has attractive little Satan wings so you know she’s got the Bad Touch. There’s a simple visual theme going on. I GET THIS. Who’s being tempted? The guy in the middle. What’s he being tempted by? The babe. There’s no, like, depictions of Troy being sacked in the background or a bunch of possums trying to read the Septuagint to muddy the plot here. Trees, house, saint, babe. That’s all I need.
This looks more like the island Pinocchio’s friends all get turned into donkeys on? Mr. Shellface playing the recorder, some weird Italian guy trying to read over his shoulder? WHAT ABOUT THIS SAYS TEMPTATION TO YOU? Everyone looks pinched and crowded and uncomfortable. The expression on St. Anthony’s face is “leave me alone with my books, you crab-falcon-beasts,” not “hmm, this might be worth abandoning eternal salvation for.”
YOU’RE JUST POKING HIM NOW
This one comes close on first glance but is UTTERLY HOPELESS. There are two naked babes, yes, but they’re hiding behind him and they’re joined for some reason by a tiny helmeted scuba diver. There’s half a donkey by his feet and someone else is running away with like…a book that has feet? Someone he’s trapped in a too-small coffin? And St. Anthony isn’t looking at any of them. You cannot tempt someone who straight up ignoring you!
Ruling: no one in the entirety of Europe from the years 1200-1750 had any idea what temptation, or torsos, were.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.