The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Pieter Huys (1519-1581)


Location: Anderlecht (Belgium - Erasmushuis (nr. 261)

For six other versions of this panel, see De Vrij 2012: 608-609 (F.7 – F.7.2-F.7.6). The painter of the Anderlecht version (according to Vanden Branden Pieter Huys) was a Bosch follower of more than average skill. Unverfehrt [1980: 184-186] dates: XVIB. The panel is well-preserved but its content and structure are rather messy and superficial. From Bosch’s treatment of the Temptation of St Anthony theme only the ‘commercial’ aspects are selected: the female nude and the monstrous fantasies.

In the centre of the painting we see a bathing naked woman whose waist is covered by a veil: the devil-queen from the Vader boeck who tried to seduce St Anthony. She points at a little owl on her left hand (probably a phallic symbol), thus inviting St Anthony to have sex with her. But the saint (bottom left, sitting in front of a hollow tree with his pig next to him) obviously rejects her invitation (see the gesture of his left hand). The buxom devil-queen is very unlike Bosch’s slim and skinny nudes (compare the devil-queen in the right interior panel of the Lisbon St Anthony) and this gives her a more sensual appearance. According to De Vrij she appears to be copied from an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondo but he does not refer to a specific engraving. In the tree, above St Anthony, a devil is ringing a bell. To the left of Anthony’s head we see a grillo with four legs and to Anthony’s right a monster whose throat is pierced by a knife is lying on the ground. The devil-queen is accompanied by an old woman with a distaff (a procuress?) and by a hybrid female devil (breasts, the head of an animal) that carries the severed head of an animal (a camel?) on a plate.

The rest of the painting is filled with all kinds of infernal prowling about, without much depth or cohesion. Clearly, the painter (Pieter Huys?) was no Bosch! In the foreground we see (from left to right) a diabolical nun with the head of a fox (her cap shows a key) and a lute under her left arm: no doubt a Zuster Lute (Sister Lute, a motif referring to licentious nuns in Middle Dutch literature circa 1500). Furthermore, a shell with a monster in it, a burning fruit bowl, a vase with an apple in it on the head of a grillo, a marine monster that is devouring a man with a naked bottom from which protrudes a fire-spitting trumpet, and a broken pitcher with fighting monsters.

In the background (from left to right) a burning city, a tent supported by a dead tree with demons inside, a fantasy building with monsters, a bridge across the water, more monsters, a bagpipe that is playing itself (an allusion to masturbation?) on top of an apple (?), a monstrous fish and in it a large ear that is being pierced by an arrow (penis in vagina?) and a pig that is climbing the mast towards a beehive. In the air (upper right) a mannikin in a mussel shell rides a flying fish.

On the whole and in spite of its rather haphazard composition a nice panel with quite a number of details (naked temptress, owl, Sister Lute, ear and arrow, beehive in a mast, bagpipe, mussel…) that may add relevant information to the interpretation of Boschian symbolism.

Unverfehrt 1980: 282 (nr. 130b, ill. 155)

De Vrij 2012: 608 (nr. F.7.1)

Further literature

J. Vanden Branden, “La Tentation de Saint Antoine”, in: Brabant (1973), pp. 26-30.
J. Vanden Branden, &

Toon meer objectgegevens


Oil on wood

Size in cm:

117 x145

Image source:

Website ''

Unverferth category:

130b - ill.155