Tribulations of Saint Anthony
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The situation is escalating in James Ensor’s Tribulations of Saint Anthony as evil temptation abounds and devils defecate all around St. Anthony.

This 1887 painting is one of Ensor’s first paintings to slip into a more fantastical state. And it’s largely believed that the ten-year period of Ensor’s life kicked off by this painting were the ten most productive and inspired years of his career.

The painting gives a very bizarre though very apparent nod to the artists Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel who had both done their own takes on Saint Anthony in the past. It does so by referencing similar-looking demons throughout the painting. The piece really takes the Saint in a new and crazy direction, depicting Saint Anthony as submerged in a large pile of manure, while around him is more garbage, naked women who are tempting him toward hell, and multiple devils defecating and preparing to perform an enema on him. The whole scene is nothing short of grotesque, but it was also completely wild, daring, and new for its time. Upon adding this painting to MOMA’s collection, the Director of the museum said that Ensor was “the boldest living painter” at the time of this painting’s completion.

St. Anthony, the historical figure, is best known for his steadfast practice and worship of God, even in the face of great temptation (see the above painting). Perhaps his most famous story is from a day when he was preaching to a group of people who would not listen. Determined to continue God’s bidding and carry out his sermon, he went down to the river and preached to the fish instead. One might think a successful preacher would find a way to get through to actual humans; If you ask me, the whole story sounds pretty fishy… Either way, St. Anthony became incredibly popular over the course of 13th century life, and by the time he moved to Padua, Italy, he received crowds at his sermons that were reported to be as large as 30,000 people -- hard to believe considering the lack of microphones at the time -- and body guards had to protect him from scissor-wielding fans who attempted to cut off pieces of his robe to sell as relics.



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