Nov 03 2009
“The Torment of Saint Anthony”-Authentic?
Amongst many other definitions, one way of defining authenticity is a quality true to one’s personality, spirit, or character. Most art critics would concur that authenticity is one of the major touchstones upon which the value of a piece of art is based. Michelangelo’s first painting commonly known as “The Torment of Saint Anthony”, was created by him, then only a twelve year old, in the workshop of his trainer, Domenico Ghirlandaio. This first painting of Michelangelo was copied from Martin Schongauer’s famous engraving, “Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons”, thereby raising many questions on its authenticity.
Upon first glance, apart from the evident difference that Michelangelo uses colored paint to depict details of his picture, unlike the many lined engravings that Schongauer uses, it is not easy to differentiate between the two pieces of art. A more careful comparison reveals subtle differences that indicate not only a lot about the painting’s authenticity, but also about the twelve year old Michelangelo himself.
The two paintings are for the most part very similar; they both depict Saint Anthony surrounded and tormented by eight flying demons. Michelangelo has also almost exactly copied the physical structure of the demons. Since this is true, one might wonder what makes Michelangelo’s painting anything more than a mere replica of Schongauer’s engraving. The answer to this question lies in Michelangelo’s perception of the painting and its constituents. The use of bright colors in Michelangelo’s version of the painting reveals a twelve year old’s quest to make the painting vibrant and lively, qualities that according to him may have been lacking in the original engraving. In addition to the spines on the demon on the left hand side of Schongauer’s painting, Michelangelo draws scales on its body in order to depict this imaginary creature with fish-like qualities, just as he may have visualized it in his mind. According to the New York Times, Michelangelo’s former student and biographer, Ascanio Condivi, revealed that Michelangelo even visited a local fish market so as to be able to better depict these scales on the body of the imaginary creature. Schongauer’s original painting has no real setting or background other than one small mountain/rock, causing all eyes to fall directly on the eight demons surrounding St. Anthony. Michelangelo on the other hand, using Renaissance realism, portrays a rural setting, with greenery, hilly mountains, and a boat sailing in water, making the painting a lot more pleasant to look at. The demons look angrier and St. Anthony looks more tormented in the original engraving as compared to Michelangelo’s version, which is understandable considering his outlook towards life as a twelve year old. In his version of the painting, Michelangelo even adds a halo on St. Anthony’s head, which doesn’t exist in the original version.
Thus despite the many similarities between the two pieces of art, the few but important differences that exist between them, give ample evidence to prove that Michelangelo’s, “The Torment of Saint Anthony”, is no replica of Schongauer’s “Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons”. It is instead an authentic piece of art that directly reveals to the world Michelangelo’s perception of Schongauer’s painting almost 522 years after he first saw it as a twelve year old boy studying art. This painting is true to Michelangelo’s personality/spirit/character, and is therefore as authentic as Schongauer’s work.