©Salvador Dali - The Temptation of St. Anthony 1946

The Temptation of St. Anthony 1946
The Temptation of St. Anthony
1946 89x119cm oil/canvas
Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium

« previous picture | 1940s Paintings | next picture »

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Temptation of St. Anthony is painted with oil on canvas. It depicts a desert-like landscape: a low horizon line with high clouds and dark, warm tones in an azure sky. The figure of St. Anthony kneels in the bottom left corner. He holds up a cross in his right hand and with his left hand supports himself on an ambiguous form. A human skull lies by his right foot. A parade of elephants led by a horse approach St. Anthony. The elephants carry symbolic objects representing temptation: a statue of a nude woman holding her breasts, an obelisk, a building complex confining a nude, disembodied female torso, and a vertical tower. The animals have exaggerated, long, spindly legs, making them appear weightless.
Artists and authors throughout history (including Hieronymus Bosch - circa 1501-1516) have used the temptation of St. Anthony as subject matter for their art.
The title, The Temptation of St. Anthony, provides clues as to the meaning of the painting and its iconography. In this painting various temptations appear to Saint Anthony (the naked man in the painting). One of these is depicted in the form of a horse, representing strength and voluptuousness.
The form of the elephant, carrying on its back the golden cup of lust in which a nude woman is standing, emphasizes the erotic character of the composition. The other elephants are carrying buildings on their backs; the first carries an obelisk inspired by that of Bernini in Rome, and the second and third are burdened with Venetian edifices in the style of Palladio.
The focal point is the animal parade because it is the largest element in the painting, turning the viewer's focus towards temptation. In the background, another elephant carries a tall tower that displays phallic overtones, and in the clouds one can glimpse a few fragments of the Escorial, a symbol of temporal and spiritual order.
All temptation must be opposed by Saint Anthony, using his cross to ward off the vision. The saint is naked, suggesting the saint's weakness, and thus juxtaposing it with the power of the cross, which must overcome his temptation.
The figure in genuflection is assumed to be St. Anthony, whose role, according to spiritual belief, is not to protect one from temptation so much as to be a conductor of the temptation. Here, he is seen as orchestrating the advancing parade of creatures, topped with various representations of erotic imagery. The rearing horse represents the fountain of desire. The obelisk mounted on the elephant's back is an homage to Elephant and Obelisk, the Roman obelisk designed by Bernini. The proceeding elephants carry structures reminiscent of the Palladium and the next with a phallic tower. In the clouds behind the elephants, glimpses of El Escorial can be seen, representing spiritual and temporal disorder.
Dalí chose to paint subjects that he considered spiritual, and to reveal hidden powers in them. He believed that all objects possessed this power, and desired to capture it in his painting and his own possession by painting them; this was inspired by a fascination he had with the atomic bomb, which he found particularly mystical and powerful. By using the artistic style of classicism, Dalí's aim was to use its realism to bring him closer to the spirituality contained in all substances and, therefore, closer to the divine. The piece is the first of his works that uses classicism in this way, and is a precursor to other themes that were brought on by this interest in spirituality, such as levitation and the neutralization of gravity.