de jonckheere old masters

Jan Mandijn

The Temptation of Saint Anthony in a panoramic landscape

Panel: 20 x 29,2 cm


The theme of the tempted hero has been a favourite among artists since antiquity: conqueror of evil, resistant to his ordeals, impassive in the face of temptation, Saint Anthony was able to stand up to the devil and his numerous vices. As a hermit, he was rapidly thought of as the biblical figure representative of the triumph of reason. A follower of Bosch, Jan Mandijn tackled the portrayal of the saint, who probably first appeared during the Roman era. Disappearing during the gothic period, this theme became incredibly popular in the West in the 16th and 17th centuries, at a time when the Church was becoming embroiled in one of its greatest crises in history.

Placed in the middle of a large panoramic landscape, Saint Anthony retreats into prayer to better fight the fantastic and satanic fauna pressing around him. Just like the Bois-le-Duc master, Mandijn uses an immensely rich iconographic vocabulary. A horde of amazing brightly-coloured characters stand behind the Saint, simply dressed in his hooded cowl. The theme takes inspiration from the paintings of Martin Schongauer who had already thought up these macabre scenes in the second half of the 15th century. These engravings preceded the works of Bosch and certainly influenced a complete generation of artists who saw in this subject the means to let their imaginations run wild. Our little panel is teeming with caustic and outlandish ideas. In the form of a frieze, he presents the various enticing musicians, all from a devilish bestiary, the fruit of the artist’s fertile imagination and skill. A lake occupies the right-hand side of the painting. A young woman occupies the centre and provocatively puts her hand on her genitals. Omnipresent in the theme of the Temptation, the woman unveils her charms to the viewer (whereas the man naturally emerges from a mussel which is lying half-closed on the waterside). Completely naked and standing in front of an improvised group of characters on the bridge, she resembles Venus coming out of the waves. The woman is wet, just like a mermaid, and any man who drowns in her charms will be lost. The symbol of sin and vice, she is the instrument of the devil par excellence. But beware the mischievous grylle with his big head, watching licentious viewers …

In the following planes, the artist clearly draws inspiration from the masters of his time and portrays the landscape in a contemporary manner. The gentle valleys, the tonal nuances and the atmospheric perspective clearly demonstrate the Flemish pictorial precepts of the 15th century. On the far left-hand side, a town in flames is a reminder of ergotism, a disease that affected the Antonite monks. In the sky, dark winged creatures gravitate around a character huddled in a black cape. Perhaps they refer to the Fall of the rebel angels created by Brueghel? The scene is painted using an unusual range of colours: pastel tones, crimson red and almond green contrast with the bright colours of the usual Bosch-like paintings. However, the softness of the polychromy and the subtle light highlight the painter’s graphic qualities. The fantasy and aura of the subject presented in this scene will delight art-lovers avid for the extraordinary, as well as those who are fond of the great tradition of 16th century Flemish landscape painting.

Provenance :
Private collection

Expositions :
« Il Sogno nel Rinascimento », 21 May – 15 September 2013, Florence, Palazzo Pitti

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