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    themes: saints and sinners



Famous is the temptation of Saint Anthony. The devil fought St Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame
by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local
villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious.
When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church.



Carlo Crivelli, Saint Stefanus, 1476, with three stones, palm and book

Saint Stefanus

Saint Stefanus was the first martyr. He was stoned after having accused the high priest of the murder on the Messias. Saint Stefanus can be recognized by the three stones on head and shoulders.

Hiëronymus Bosch (detail Garden of Delights)

Hiëronymus Bosch,
Temptation of Saint Anthony


Hiëronymus Bosch Garden of Delights
Prado Museum Madrid


Hiëronymus Bosch, Garden of Delights

Hiëronymus Bosch, Garden of Delights


Theresia of Avila


Theresia of Avila (1515-1582) had a bad health and was seriously ill. During these years of suffering she began the practise of mental prayer, especially when she came under the influence of the Jesuits. Meanwhile God had begun to visit her with visions and locutions, that is manifestations in which the exterior senses were in no way affected, the things seen and the words heard being directly impresses upon her mind, giving her strength in trials, reprimanding her for unfaithfullness, and consoling her in trouble. Theresa wrote to make clear, that what happened to her was the work of God, and not that of the devil.



The Rockeby Venus

The Rockeby Venus (1649/51), Diego Rodriguez de Silva Y Velázquez (1599-1660)
National Gallery, London

Venus, the goddess of love and a personification of female beauty,  is lying on a bed, watching herself in a mirror. Her son Amor (or Cupid) is holding the mirror, and looks at her reflection. Via the mirror Venus is watching us, and we are looking at her face. Or?
This is the only surviving example of a female nude by Velázquez. The subject was rare in Spain, because the Church disapproved.

Faust, (1652?), Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam


An old man looks up from his work. A bright, radiating disk has appeared at the window of his study. Within the circle of light is a mysterious text. It is an anagram, the letters are not in the correct order. Although the room is poorly lit, the books, the globe and the skull can be perceived.


The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1832?), Hippolyte Delaroche

Illustration for John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' by Gustave Doré (1866)

The Temptation of  St. Antony after Gustave Flaubert (1908), Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

This painting shows the scene in which Anthony is tempted by the queen of Sheba, with her servants, elephants and camels.

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946), Salvador Dali.
In this painting Dali uses elements of the parc of Bomarzo: The Elephant, the Temple, the Tortoise with female figure and the Pegasus.



                                                                                                                        The four witches (Dürer,1497)

 Mary of Nimeguen

The Rederijker play, Mariken van Nimweghen (Mary of Nimeguen) comes close to a contemporary version of drama. The play is about a girl who becomes the mistress of Satan.
Mariken begins the play as an innocent who travels to the nearby town of Nimeguen to shop for her guardian/uncle. Finding she has stayed too late, Mariken seeks shelter for
the night at the house of her aunt. The aunt insults the girl and drives her from her house.
The aunt's insults include an allegation of an incestuous relationship between the girl and her uncle, as well as a hint that the aunt may attack Mariken. Mariken is so
depressed that she walks out of town alone crying for help from "God or the Devil, it's all the same to me."
Mariken encounters Lucifer, disguised as a one-eyed, itinerant scholar, who offers to teach her magic and the seven liberal arts in return for her submission. She becomes his
mistress and together they travel the country. While in Antwerp, she happens to witness a wagon-play that convinces her to repent. She leaves Lucifer and returns to her old
uncle. Together they journey to the Pope himself to find absolution for Mariken's sins. After many years of heavy penance, a miracle signals her divine forgiveness.


Moenen, Piet Killaers










Isle of the Dead, Atlantis, or 'island of Atlas'

Isle of the Dead, Atlantis, or 'island of Atlas', is the name of a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias.
According to Plato, Atlantis was a naval power that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa, approximately 9500 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean 'in a single day and night of misfortune'.
As a story, embedded in Plato's dialogues, Atlantis is generally seen as a myth created by Plato.

What was left from Atlantis was the isle of dead, according to some traditions. On the desolate and isolated isle of dead one should be able to return to the great estate of the original inhabitants. The isle of death is also connected with the travels and ventures of mythological persons like Hercules or the hero of the Gilgamesj-epos.

The story of Plato about a mythic isle is known all over the world, in many stories. They tell about a paradise on earth, that goes down by natural disasters, like earthquakes
or floods.



Exorcism is the rite of driving out the Devil and his demons from possessed persons. A general assumption is that the Roman Catholic singularly practices the rite of exorcism,
but some Protestant denominations practice it as well. In these groups gifted people drive out devils and heal while they touch the persons with their hands, called laying on
of hands, and pray over them.
Exorcism is not driving out the Devil or a demon, but it is placing the Devil or demon on oath. Sometimes there are more than one demon possessing a person.
In the Christian sense the higher authority is Jesus Christ. The act is based on the belief that the Devil, his demons, and evil spirits are afraid of Christ. The belief itself is based
on Scripture. Coming from the sea of Galilee Christ was met by a man from the tombs cut into the mountains of the area. The man was said to be possessed of an unclean
spirit. Nothing could bind this man, not even chains. He lived in the mountains, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But, so it is told, when seeing Christ approaching,
the man went to him for help. The demon immediately recognized Christ, and Christ recognized the demon. Christ summoned the spirit to leave the man, and asked his name. "My name is Legion," answered the spirit, "for we are many." Once the demons left the man, Christ sent them into a nearby heard of swine who then jumped in to the sea
and drowned. (Mark 5:1-13) Unlike other exorcists, it is believed, that Christ did not exorcise because He did not need to call on a higher authority since He Himself was
that higher authority.

Giotto, Saint Francis of Assisi exorcising devils in Arezzo

J.W. Lewis, 1881


Original sin


De Erfzonde

Original sin

Original sin, called in the Eastern Orthodox tradition ancestral sin is, according to a doctrine in Christian theology, humanity's state of sin resulting from the Fall of Man.
Like other theological terms, the terms "original sin" and "ancestral sin" are not found in either the Old or the New Testament, though the sinfulness of humans is frequently addressed, but the doctrine that the terms express is claimed to be based on passages in the New Testament written by Paul the Apostle.
In the history of Christianity this condition has been characterized in many ways ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin
yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature," to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt by all humans through collective guilt.
Western Christian tradition regards original sin as the general condition of sinfulness (lack of holiness) into which human beings are born, distinct from any actual sins that
a person may or may not commit later. Different views exist as to whether a person bears real guilt or personal responsibility only for actual sins that they personally commit, while being tempted by original sin, or whether they bear actual guilt for the sins of ancestors.
Eastern Christian tradition too identifies original sin as physical and spiritual death. Others see original sin also as the cause of actual sins: "a bad tree bears bad fruit"
(Matthew 7:17)



              St. Simeon Stylites

                          Carel Willink 1939                                             Icon 18e century Russia

St. Simeon Stylites (first part)

Although I be the basest of mankind,
From scalp to sole one slough and crust of sin,
Unfit for earth, unfit for heaven, scarce meet
For troops of devils, mad with blasphemy,
I will not cease to grasp the hope I hold
Of saintdom, and to clamour, mourn and sob,
Battering the gates of heaven with storms of prayer,
Have mercy, Lord, and take away my sin.

Let this avail, just, dreadful, mighty God,
This not be all in vain, that thrice ten years,
Thrice multiplied by superhuman pangs,
In hungers and in thirsts, fevers and cold,
In coughs, aches, stitches, ulcerous throes and cramps,
A sign betwixt the meadow and the cloud,
Patient on this tall pillar I have borne
Rain, wind, frost, heat, hail, damp, and sleet, and snow;
And I had hoped that ere this period closed
Thou wouldst have caught me up into thy rest,
Denying not these weather-beaten limbs
The meed of saints, the white robe and the palm.

O take the meaning, Lord: I do not breathe,
Not whisper, any murmur of complaint.
Pain heaped ten-hundred-fold to this, were still
Less burthen, by ten-hundred-fold, to bear,
Than were those lead-like tons of sin that crushed
My spirit flat before thee.

O Lord, Lord,
Thou knowest I bore this better at the first,
For I was strong and hale of body then;
And though my teeth, which now are dropped away,
Would chatter with the cold, and all my beard
Was tagged with icy fringes in the moon,
I drowned the whoopings of the owl with sound
Of pious hymns and psalms, and sometimes saw
An angel stand and watch me, as I sang.
Now am I feeble grown; my end draws nigh;
I hope my end draws nigh: half deaf I am,
So that I scarce can hear the people hum
About the column's base, and almost blind,
And scarce can recognize the fields I know;
And both my thighs are rotted with the dew;
Yet cease I not to clamour and to cry,
While my stiff spine can hold my weary head,
Till all my limbs drop piecemeal from the stone,
Have mercy, mercy: take away my sin.

Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

To be continued....

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