Léon Herbo’s best years were his early years, before he became a too successful and too superficial painter of portraits.
His healthy appetite for women and his sense for humour are perfectly combined in this painting representing the solitary hermit Anthony struggling with the devil who hallucinates him with the image of an appealing young woman.
About Léon Herbo
Templeuve 1850 – 1907 Brussels (Ixelles)
Painter of genre and of historic scenes. By the end of the 19th century he specialised in society portraits.
Pupil at the Academy of Tournai (near his native Templeuve) of Léonce Legendre. Between 1869 and 1873 he studied at the Academy of Brussels. After his studies he travelled and studied further in France, Germany, Holland and Italy.
Herbo was in 1876 one of the founders of “L’essor”, an artistic circle in Brussels, that stood for a realistic approach of painting. Although L’essor was meant as a progressive movement, it was soon (in 1883) overtaken in Brussels by “Les XX” (Les Vingt) that defended a much more modern and international approach of painting, sculpture and design.
Herbo was a teacher at, later director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels.
About Saint Anthony the Abbot
Saint Anthony was born circa 251 in Egypt, then part of the Roman empire. He was born into a wealthy Christian family. Following his parents’ death he gave away his money and around the age of 20 he started a life full of piety as a hermit, becoming the most famous monk of ancient Christendom. He was a noble example of an ascetic life of austerity, sacrifice and extreme solitude.
The first 35 years he lived retired into solitude in a grotto next to his birthplace, the following 20 years on a mountain on the other bank of the Nile and finally in a community of hermits in an oasis in the desert.
Though he led a hard life, full of deprivation, Anthony was very long-lived: death (which he had predicted) took him at the age of 105, on the 17th of January 355 (or 356).
Saint Anthony became a model for the denial of vice, specifically pleasures of the flesh. During his isolation he had to fight with prayer the supernatural temptation by the devil under different forms, especially under that of the most seductive woman or also of wild beasts. He had to fight evil thoughts, hallucinations, lusts and desires of all kind.
We know his life fairly well, thanks to the biography written by his disciple Athanasius of Alexandria. Soon this text was translated from Greek into Latin by Evagrius of Antioch.
Anthony’s veneration grew rapidly in the Western church:
- in the 11th century a Byzantine emperor had given his relics to a French count;
- accounts of miraculous healing of skin diseases, especially those afflicted with the widely spread St. Anthony’s fire, an inflammation of the skin due to ergot poisoning, led to the founding of the Hospital Brothers of Saint Anthony;
- his life was also described in the popular ‘Legenda Aurea’ or Golden Legend. This was a medieval collection of legendary lives and accounts of miracles of important Christian saints compiled around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, the archbishop of Genoa;
- artists, especially painters, loved interpreting the bizarre incidents of his life.
About our painting
Herbo was certainly a very good painter, but he became too successful. It is believed that he produced some 1.200 paintings, especially portraits, which are often rather dull and mostly lack a sense for psychology.
His earlier production, before the late 1990s, is therefore much more interesting and of a higher artistic degree. At that time he painted Greek and Oriental beauties. Our develish beauty seducing the holy monk Anthony can be inscribed into that period.
Our painter loved beautiful women and he also had a good sense of humour. He regularly painted funny self-portraits. As to “L’essor’ which he co-founded, it held between 1885 and 1887 several exhibitions of unserious creations: “Zwanze” expositions of paintings with funny, even absurd themes. Sadly our painting is not dated.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is an amusing ode to all honourable male intellectuals who have struggled with female beauty. The great Albert Einstein himself did not have the issues that Saint Anthony struggled with, he stood closer to Casanova.