Saint Antony of the Desert

Today is the feast day of  Saint Antony of the Desert (251-356); according to my Dictionary of Saints, “Antony” is the proper, if not archaic name for the abbot. I am not channeling my latent  New Jersey “guido” tendencies.

He has been a favorite saint of mine since boyhood and I have played upon the theme  of his wilderness exile numerous times, with varying degrees of success. But since leaving L.A. and moving quite literally to the desert I feel a keen kinship to the saint . San Diego, particularly East County where I now live, is a wasteland. It lacks interest in culture, intellectualism or beauty, San Diego of surfing fame is pretty in a vapid sort of way, but for something to sink your creative teeth into it is best to look abroad; or within your own reserves.  

Like the famed abbot, I retreat to  my cell and work, time and again I am stunned at how this”exile’ has been a boon. when I was in L.A. I would dawdle with vanities, little actual painting aside from what I was being paid to do was attempted. This hermitage has become a treasure.

I mentioned earlier I was reading a brief biography of Max Beckman by Reinhard Spieler, Max Beckman, 1884-1950, The Path to Myth (Taschen). I have long admired his beautiful 1936/37 triptych Temptation of Saint Anthony; what I didn’t know was his thoughts behind the subject. According to Spieler, Beckman felt:

“Ultimately Temptation deals with the inner conditions necessary for the creation of art.  Beckman depicts the artist as a modern St. Anthony, exposed to a myriad of temptations; at the same time these temptations are the foundations and mainspring of his art.” (121).

This had me thinking,  for Beckman’s thoughts made clear my own nebulous pondering ; so often I too am tempted by many wonderful inspirations, some “sacred” and some decidedly profane.   How do I go about synthesizing them into work that is authentic to my own desires and not slavish to the source. What I do not want is a mock Baroque or Renaissance pastiche.  I made a list of what has haunted and inspired : classicism, academic realism, Renaissance/Baroque art, porn, saints, narratives and myth making, on and on.  What I hope to do in my next painting is confront these tempters/inspirations head on, in my own version of Anthony in the Desert.

The following are a few sketches that I have been putting together, many more will follow.


detail of tormenting fauns


Preliminary sketch, I am most likely going to replace the conventional depiction of the abbot with a self-portrait .


An earlier sketch, I like elements of this and may very well include them in the final painting …or not.

I was also, just to clear my mind playing upon an image of a  seductress from one of my sketches, translated as a relief print.

It is a very poor initial print, I will play with it some more, make a final print in my upcoming class when I have access to a proper press. But I thought I would include it with this post nonetheless.


My introduction to the saint was not though religious fervor but through art. Numerous, far gifted artists have played upon this theme. I have in the past made note of it, this link is for a particular  personal favorite; not only because there are numerous pieces of wonderful art but because there is a really wonderful clip by the incredible George Mélliès, his La Tentation de Saint Antoine, 1898. It is not to be missed.

Until next time,

take care, be well,


Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

8 thoughts on “Saint Antony of the Desert”

  1. These preliminary sketches are wonderful, so powerful and strong, your drawing is beautiful. I particularly like the fauns, great stuff, this looks like an ambitious peice of work, I’m full of admiration

    1. Thanks a lot, I like the fauns the best, they are literally leading the way aesthetically. They seem to synthesize the direction i want to follow. Take care and have a great weekend. LG

  2. Too right that your retreat to your hermitage has been a wonder… I think you are probably one of the most prolific people around!
    I’ve always loved stumbling across an odd temptation of St. Anthony painting in museums (mostly to see the wildness of the things tempting him though, I must confess). I really thought there was a lot of interest going on in your earlier sketch, for what it’s worth. Though, there are interesting things going on in all of the sketches here… it’s always so exciting to draft up a new painting, isn’t it? Good luck!

    P.S. Thanks to you I just went and learned that St. Anthony that was tempted in the desert is not St. Anthony that my husband asks to find missing things, and who, to his credit, does seem to find them. Makes good sense that they are not the same, I suppose.

    1. I think the reason the theme has been so popular is exactly because the demons are so much fun to play with and to wonder at, who the hell cares about the long suffering abbot (:
      Yes, your husband is most likely praying to St. Anthony of Padua, a later saint. St. Anthony of Padua is my patron saint and a great favorite of mine as well although I have never asked him for a favor; I ought to.
      I agree, starting a new work is great fun, like falling in love, full of optimism , six months from now the honeymoon will be over and I will be scratching my head as to what the hell I was thinking. But now, just adrenaline and fun.

  3. I was a big fan of your babylonbaroque blog and I like how you use postings from it in reference to your current work. I myself refer to babylonbaroque for inspiration and clarity from time to time.

    1. Thank you, I really enjoyed working on BabylonBaroque, useful as a tool to clarify my tastes and thoughts. I am happy you can use it as a tool, i do as well, particularly concerning dates. I guess it isn’t a great surprise that what I love so much would influence my current desire to express myself. Thanks as always.

  4. oh, he’s a big one, i’m excited to see what you do with this–i’m already really enjoying the details, those fawns especially and as usual your skulls…the hermit himself is so full of character, and i love the seductress!
    it’s bizarre what a little time in the “desert” will do. that’s how i started drawing, to begin with 🙂 what an excellent saint….

    1. Thank you Zoe, it is evolving, added some, removed some. I love the seductress as well, she is going to be a large painting on her own, I think she will be powerful. I felt the composition benefited with a bit of air flow.
      You are right about the desert/isolation, and so was Anthony.
      Take care,LG

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