Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
Angel Incarnate

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The ultimate fable of sexual temptation. Saint Anthony was a Christian saint in Egypt who may have died around CE 356 (his monastery is here). His claim to fame is his sojourn in the desert, fending off Satan and all manner of monsters and demons. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the temptations included sex, for what else would the saint be fending off?


Around 1500, with the Reformation around the corner, the theme became popular among northern European painters such as Martin Schongauer, Hieronymous Bosch and Matthias Grunewald (Michelangelo's painting of 1487-88, completed when he was 12 or 13, is a color version of Schongauer's engraving).

Above is a work by Flemish painter Pieter Huys, around 1547, when sex first got to the front of the line, with that rather fetching woman in front of him holding whatever it is. Has he noticed? The painting is in the Louvre.

Below are paintings from the 1600's by the Flemish Joos van Craesbeeck and Italian Salvator Rosa (around 1645).



The story fascinated Flaubert and Félicien Rops (here), among others, and Salvador Dalí who had a field day with it.

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