While spending the night in an abandoned tomb, St. Anthony was viciously tormented by a gaggle of horrifying demons, only to return the next day, exclaiming: “Here is Anthony. I do not flee your beatings nor pain, nor torture; nothing can separate me from the love of God.” According to St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, they came next “in droves, taking the form of all kinds of monstrous beasts and hideous reptiles,” yet St. Anthony, groaning in pain, “faced the demons, laughing: ‘If you had any power, only one of you would be enough to kill me; but the Lord has taken away your strength…”
For centuries the Temptation of St. Anthony has provided a template for imaginative artists to indulge their propensities for the fantastic and bizarre, and this etching by the baroque printmaker Jacques Callot is no exception. Saint Anthony himself appears in the lower right of the composition, using his crucifix to fend off an elaborate horde of Boschian perversities that pour in from land and sky. An important figure in the development of the old master print, Callot pioneered a series of technical innovations that allowed to him to achieve theretofore unseen levels of detail.