The Temptation of St. Anthony Walker

The Temptation of St. Anthony Walker by Frederick Walker. September 1873. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Walker's September 1873 parody is based on the legend of St. Anthony, an early Christian aesthete who, while on retreat in the Egyptian desert, was the subject of torment by demons, who took the forms of animals and humans in order to distract him from his meditatations upon divine scripture. The legend has been a source of inspiration for Christian artists from anonymous mediaeval works to Dali's surrealistic twentieth-century treatment. Lucas Cranach's woodcut dates from 1506; Bortolomeo Montagna's version from 1510; Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece dates from 1515; Hieronymus Bosch's celebrated tryptych (National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon) from 1550; and Paolo Veronese's painting from 1552; and Lelio Orsi's baroque treatment from 1570.

The year after Walker's cartoon, Gustave Flaubert published his novel La Tentation de St. Antoine, so that, if we are looking for an immediate subject of the parody we should probably look to Jean François Millet's 1846 oil on canvas painting, which brought the artist public acclaim and the Légion d'honneur in 1867 when shown in Paris at the Great Exhibition. Certainly this was the sort of recognition that Walker craved, but his career was cut short less than two years later when, touring the Scottish Highlands, he died of a hemorrhage in the lungs. The Devil from Millet's famous painting Walker has humourously cast as a Scot wielding a gigantic fly-fishing rod and displaying the sort of salmon Walker might catch if only he would abandon his artistic endeavour for a tour of the Highlands. His cushion looks suspiciously like a fish-basket.

Source: John George Marks' Life and Letters of Frederick Walker, A. R. A., London and New York: Macmillan, 1896.


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Last modified 16 September 2013