Saint Anthony

Scenes from the life

The four images on this page come from a cycle of eight panels showing events in the life of Anthony. These panels are both wonderful and problematic - the problem being that no-one is quite sure who painted them.  They were originally attributed to Sassetta, but no longer. Now the artist is described anonymously as 'The Master of the 'Osservanza' though some feel that Giovanni di Paolo may have been involved.
    As far as this study is concerned, the identity of the artist is not an issue. All eight will appear, labelled 'Scenes from the Life.'  As I've suggested, all are wonderful pictures. 

Anthony in the church
Scenes from the life
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Anthony gives his possessions to the poor.
Scenes from the life
National Gallery, Washington

'Now it was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom into the Lord's House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Saviour; and how they in the Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles' feet for distribution to the needy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven.  Pondering over these things he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, “If thou wouldest be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor; and come follow Me and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”

   Anthony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers – they were three hundred acres, productive and very fair – that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister.  And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little however for his sister's sake. 
       And again as he went into the church, hearing the Lord say in the Gospel, “be not anxious for the morrow,” he could stay no longer, but went out and gave those things also to the poor.   (Athanasius - The Life of Anthony, 2 - 3.)

Note: the scene in the church moves the location from Egypt to the Duomo in Siena - the zebra stripes are unmistakeable.  What is particularly interesting is the glimpse - on the extreme right - of Duccio's Maesta. 

Anthony leaving the monastery
Scenes from the life
Metropolitan Museum New York


The Death of Anthony
Scenes from the life
National Gallery, Washington

  These two scenes are more problematic. It is easy to assume that the elderly figure at the door in the 'leaving the monastery' picture is Anthony, but the halo shows that he is the younger figure on the right. Anthony was much sort-after, and more than once moved from one hermit community to a more remote location for a little peace and quiet, though 'monastery' is an anachronism. This picture is probably based on this early event described by Athanasius: 
  'And on the day following he went forth still more eagerly bent on the service of God and having fallen in with the old man he had met previously, he asked him to dwell with him in the desert.  But when the other declined on account of his great age, and because as yet there was no such custom, Anthony himself set off forthwith to the mountain.' (Chapter 11)

   The death scene doesn't follow Athanasius's text. This tells us that Anthony was very anxious that his supporters should not follow the Egyptian custom of 'wrapping in linen cloths at death the bodies of good men, and especially of the holy martyrs; and not to bury them underground, but to place them on couches, and to keep them in their houses, thinking in this to honour the departed.'  To avoid this fate he headed for the 'Inner mountain' with two trusted colleagues, who, upon his death, buried him in a secret location. So secret, in fact, that there is now a monastery on the spot where he was buried, (see below) and his dug-up relics ended up in France and the Netherlands. Anthony might have known he couldn't win in the end.

   An aside:  I see there are now various websites selling 'genuine' relics and reliquaries, including, yes, ebay. Credit cards at the ready, then, though Anthony's relics don't seem to have appeared yet. 

Monastery of St Anthony, Eastern Desert, Egypt


St Anthony Index

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