The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1502



The Temptation of St. Anthony, 132 x 225 cm, 1502, Museo Nacional de Antiqua, Lisbon

At the beginning and the end of Bosch's career stands each a monumental triptych: The Garden, his song of Life, Love, and Death, and the monstrously scatological Temptation of St. Anthony in Lisbon. As with the Garden Triptych Bosch could not have formulated the philosophical content of the Temptation of St. Anthony Triptych without Jacob's knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. Bosch provided the images but not the acrimonious rage and despair expressed by them.

The interpretation of the Anthony Triptych is so involved, that I will not repeat what I have already described in the text of the novel. However, I will present enlargements of the important parts of the three panels here.

Anthony appears once in each panel. The happenings surrounding the saint have nothing to do with him. He merely provides the name for the triptych, a cover underneath of which Bosch and Jacob could spread their heretic rage.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Song of Mose, 1502.

The middle panel describes the Old Testament Wrath which Mose threatens Jaweh will bestow on his Chosen People.: (Deuteronomy 32:15) Jeshurun (Israel) you waxed fat, you grew thick, you became sleek; then you forsook God who made you, and scoffed at the Rock (covenant) of your salvation. Fraenger discovered the Biblical source underlying this imagery in The Song of Mose, Deuteronomy 32:15 - 33, the exhortations Mose gave his Chosen People at the time of his death. A rare subject in Medieval and Renaissance painting. Undoubtedly Bosch painted it at the request of Jacob, who must have been in a deep crisis with both the Christian Church and his inherited Judaism.



The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Black Mass, 1502.

[Deuteronomy 32, 16] They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominable practices they provoked him to anger. [17] They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come in of late, whom your fathers had never dreaded. [18] You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Anthony is completely unaware of the sacrilegious, Egyptian frog-rites performed by three sublunar priestesses who distribute the "bitter grapes of Sodom" to a ragged lot of cretins.

[Deuteronomy 32, 32] For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter. [33] For their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of asps.




The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Sewage Canal and the Duck Ship, 1502.

The prelate singing from the duck ship and the eviscerated priest reading from the Bible are indictments against the depraved Christian Church: The false gods the Israelites - and Jacob - are following.



The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Column of Juda, 1502.

The frieze on the column are the key to Fraenger's exegesis. On the topmost level Mose receives the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the hands of the visible Yahweh., while directly below the Israelites dance around the Golden Calf. The next lower level appears, in his customary form of a dog, the Egyptian god Anubis, who watched over the embalming of the dead. Characterized by their head gear, a group of Jews offers a lamb, an ox, and a forbidden swan to this false god. A reference to Exodus 14: 11-12, where against God's orders and Mose's exhortations, the recalcitrant tribe of Jacob (sic!) embalmed their dead during their long march through the desert.

[Deuteronomy 32, 19] The Lord saw it, and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. [20] And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Advancing Armies of God's Wrath, 1502.

[Deuteronomy 32, 21] They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. So I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people; I will provoke them with a foolish nation. [22] For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of hell, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

A witch carries the dreaded Basilisk whose one glance will kill people. The armor of the knight, true to the text, is empty. A rouged rat shoulders a dead pig hanging from the torturer's wheel. Two armored dogs lead the procession.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Middle panel, The Stricken People, 1502.

A slow transformation has befallen the Chosen people. The horse of a falconer has turned onto an earthenware jug, a woman tending her baby into a willow witch The others will soon follow.

[Deuteronomy 32, 23] And I will heap evils upon them; I will spend my arrows upon them; [24] they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured with burning heat and poisonous pestilence; and I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with venom of crawling things of the dust. [25] In the open the sword shall bereave, and in the chambers shall be terror, destroying both young man and virgin, the sucking child with the man of gray hairs. [32, 28] For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. [29] O, if they were wise, they would understand this, they would discern their latter end!


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Right Wing, "Anthony in Meditation," 1502.

The two wings illustrate the depravation of the Christian Church in the 15th century. Again Anthony is but a cover. He winks at the viewer oblivious to the blasphemous acts surrounding him. Behind him rise the oriental towers of a city. A senile dwarf walks forlorn through the fields.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Right Wing, Anthony in Meditation, 1502

Right next to Anthony a willow virgin is being impregnated by a frog. Below a table has been laid out with a simple repast for him. It is held up by castrates. An Arsch mit Ohren, an arse-with-ears, has succumbed to its debaucheries.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, Anthony's Flight and Fall, 1502

The left wing connects the visions of the middle panel explicitly with Jacob, who is seen carrying the fallen Anthony back to his hermitage. It is, of course, Jacob who in Bosch's eyes has fallen from the hubris of his teaching career. On the right edge a prelate leads a stag-headed cleric into a sodomite's pub. Below a bridge a bishop is reading the indictment against Jacob.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, The Sodomite's Airship, 1502

Anthony at the peak of his fantasies, praying fervently, lies spread-eagle in the lap of a monstrous frog. He will soon awake from this sodomite nightmare and fall.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Left Wing, Anthony's Rescue, 1502

Three friars lead by Jacob carry the fallen saint across a bridge. Under the bridge on the frozen brook a bishop reads the indictment against Jacob to two water rats. Jacob's magpie, his soul-bird, lies dead on the ice, shot by an arrow. A bird-messenger in the habit of a magister on skates brings the Papal Bulle. And next to the bridge the Basilisk is emerging from an adder's egg.


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Outside, Christ's Passion, 1502

Another serious Bosch grisaille of the Passion of Christ on the outside closes this most outrageous triptych. ....


The Haywain 1504


The Haywain, Shop Copy 1, 135 x 200 cm, 1505, Escorial

Two versions of the Haywain have survived, one at the Escorial, a second. better copy 2 at the Prado in Madrid dendro-dated to 1515 or 1516 (see below). The wings were definitely painted by Bosch's shop. The earlier copy 1 could be a copy Bosch had made by his shop right after he painted the central panel. It seems possible that the Prado copy was either painted by the shop under his close scrutiny or even by himself in his last year, after they had to sell the original and the earlier copy after the shop went bankrupt, as I surmise. Both copies are signed.

Compared to the Anthony Triptych this is almost a genre piece, politically quite harmless, but it may have been dear to Bosch: His penultimate large painting.



The Haywain, Middle panel, Copy 2, 135 x 200 cm, 1515/16, Prado, Madrid

Comparing this copy of the middle panel and the one below, the landscape in the back ground and the figures are more carefully detailed. The face of the Emperor behind the haywain is preserved (it was scraped off in the Escorial copy). Otherwise both copies are identical. Differences in color are partly due to my digital reproduction, I have not checked them against the original. Both copies, like many of Bosch's paintings in the Prado, are in poor shape and should be restored.


The Haywain, Middle panel, Copy 1, 135 x 200 cm, 1504, Escorial, Madrid

Despite their pastoral subject Bosch is sending the Emperor, the Pope, Duke Philip, and a Brabantian Nobleman to Hell. I describe in the novel what could be the reasons for this harsh judgment.


The Haywain, Outside of Triptych, Copy 2, Jacob the Traveler, 135 x 200 cm, 1515/16, Prado, Madrid

The outside gives the triptych its special, autobiographical meaning. Jacob does not appear on the inside, but he appears most prominently on both wings on the outside. A close repeat of the Prodigal Son of 1496. He is better dressed and healthier, his dog follows him, but the magpie is fleeing from his owner. Jacob is about to cross a bridge, into a new life? To Compostela? To his death? He was 65 in 1505, and the chroniclers of Hertogenbosch report that he had meanwhile apostatized from his Christian faith. What actually happened to him is fictional. But it is a fact that his friend Bosch remained silent after this painting and died a pauper in 1516, a full ten years later