Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Title: Temptation of Saint Anthony
  • Creator: Jean Colombe, painter
  • Description:

    This illumination depicts an imagined scene of the temptation of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of organized Christian monasticism. In the illumination, a devil disguised as a young woman beckons to Anthony, who stands in the bedroom’s entryway with iconic flames by his feet. Already scandalously underdressed, the implications of the devil’s gesture toward the bed are clear. A small pair of horns can be seen on the woman's head. St. Anthony is drawn with a halo, and raises his hand in a gesture of refusal. The bed dominating the right side of the image is opulent, complete with elegant curtains and vibrant covers. A window overlooking natural scenery frames the back of the illumination. The inscription beneath the illustration reads, “Vox de celo ad Anthonium facta”, which translates as "A voice from heaven resounded to Anthony". This is the opening line of an antiphon sung on Anthony's feast day.

    This image comes from a book of hours made for Louis de Laval (1411-1491), a nobleman who served French dukes and kings in military and political missions. As a bibliophile, Louis hired the admired artist Jean Colombe and his workshop to illustrate the book extensively. This image was part of the first period of work, 1470-1475, which took place in Tours. Art historians characterize Colombe's work in this period as marked by intense colors, a sense of monumentality and influences from the painter Jean Fouquet. In the 1480s during a second period of work Colombe added a cycle of Biblical illustrations that reflect his mature style including figures with more rounded bodies and a subtler use of colors. Louis de Laval bequeathed this book to Anne of France (Anne of Beaujeu), daughter of King Louis XI and regent for her brother, Charles VIII.

    In the later third century, Anthony made his pilgrimage to the Egyptian desert in order to live a more pious life as a hermit. However, the Devil, who despises all things good and pious, sought to trick Anthony into betraying his religious convictions. In Life of St. Anthony, the first known account of the monk's life, the devil approaches a young Anthony and “one night even took upon the shape of a woman and imitated all her acts simply to beguile Anthony.” While this illumination depicts an older St. Anthony, the scene parallels the same narrative structure. In the Bible, there are numerous accounts of the devil appearing in the guise of more innocuous creatures, whether animals, pious men, or wealthy women. This illumination contributes to a tradition of medieval depictions that represent these disguises by signaling demonic presence through subtle details, such as clawed feet or hands.

    An opulent bed, as in this image, conveys ideas of comfort, material wealth and high social standing. While peasants mostly invested their income outside the household, such as in new equipment for agricultural work, wealthier families were able to invest in the home, where they spent much of their time entertaining or conducting business. The luxurious curtains depicted in the illumination were often a near-necessity for such families, as they offered privacy from the live-in servants and laborers that moved through the wealthy household. The bedroom, as a private retreat, was also a site of piety for the laity. Countless illuminations of Mary praying in her bedroom rather than in a church provide insight into the bedroom as a symbol of the interior of the soul. The devil in the illumination, now occupying that intimate, pious interior, suggests a perverse influence on a once devout domestic retreat. St. Anthony’s refusal to engage with the demon sexually invites us to read this as a reclamation of the pious space.

  • Source: Gallica
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Anthony of Egypt, Saint Bedrooms Chastity Devil Hagiography Monks Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1470-1475
  • Related Work: Digitized copy of the Hours of Louis de Laval, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 920. Saint Martha with the dragon of Tarascon, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 920, fol. 317v. Consecration of Saint Radegund as an abbess, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 920, fol. 319r. Martyrdom of Saint Agatha, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 920, fol. 314r.
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 920, fol. 281r
  • Original Location: Tours, France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint; Gold;
  • Donor: Layman; Louis de Laval, lord of Châtillon and an adviser to King Louis XI
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 24.5/17.5/
  • Inscription: “Vox de celo ad Anthonium facta” (A voice from heaven resounded to Anthony).
  • Related Resources: Jacob, Marie. Dans l'atelier des Colombe (Bourges 1470-1500): la représentation de l'Antiquité en France à la fin du XVe siècle. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012;
    Jaritz, Gerhard. Angels, Devils: The Supernatural and Its Visual Representation. Central European University Press, 2011;
    Riddy, Felicity. "'Burgeois' Domesticity in Late-medieval England." Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household in Medieval England. Edited by Maryanne Kowaleski. Cambridge University Press, 2008;
    Schaefer, Claude. "Autour des Heures de Laval: Les activités de l'atelier de Jean Colombe après 1470." Medieval Codicology, Iconography, Literature, and Translation: Studies for Keith Val Sinclair. Edited by Peter Rolfe Monks and D.D.R. Owen. Brill, 1994.