Venetian Red Notebook: The Long and Winding Road
Master of the Osservanza Triptych,
St. Anthony Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold
Tempera on panel, c 1435
The Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This amazing small painting (approximately 19 x 14 inches) is one of my favorites in the visual feast that is the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been visiting this painting for decades and never tire of it, always see something new. The painting was once thought to be by the 15th century Sienese master, Sassetta, but has since been attributed to the Master of the Osservanza Triptych.
The painting is one of eight panels that narrate the story of the life of St. Anthony Abbot. St. Anthony wanders through this lonely landscape under a brilliantly blazing twilight sky. His path has taken him past a stark though luminous church (painted in the transparent yet vibrantly rich Carthamus Pink) through a landscape of desolate rocky hills and bare trees, softened only by the benign presence of some lovely, docile beasts. The first time I saw this painting I was confused by the saint’s apparent recoil from a sweet little rabbit at the base of the tree, until I read that a pot of gold, the symbol of all earthly temptation, was originally painted on the left foreground, and had, early in the painting’s long history, been scraped away.