Legends of Anthony Abbot relate how the pious early Christian, forsaking society, journeyed into the wilderness to seek God. Anthony appears twice in this painting; in his foreground retreat, he resists the Devil's manifold temptations. After failing to yield to the evil lures, he is shown again being physically tortured while carried aloft by demons. Yet, the saint was saved by the purity of his soul.
The religious subject is presented in a revolutionary fashion; generations of earlier artists had tended to treat landscape as an unobtrusive backdrop of secondary importance, whereas now the landscape dominates the subject to such an extent that the temptation of Saint Anthony seems only incidental. This change of emphasis marks an important advance toward the development of pure landscape painting, in which Pieter Bruegel the Elder was an instrumental figure. Already, that delight in the natural world is apparent here in the shadowy depths of leafy forests, contrasting with open vistas of waterways, villages, and towns bathed in pearly light.
Perhaps the juxtaposition of a peaceful landscape with the temptations and attacks of demons was a subtle statement by this Bruegel follower on the political and moral brutalities of his time. Possibly Saint Anthony is meant allegorically to represent Everyman caught up in a world gone mad.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication Early Netherlandish Painting, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/early-netherlandish-painting.pdf
Private collection, Brussels. (Robert Frank, London, by 1935); on consigment from 1937 with (M. Knoedler & Co., New York; joint purchase 1945 with (Pinakos [Rudolf Heinemann); purchased 1950 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 by exchange to NGA.
- De Van Eyck à Bruegel, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1935, no. 16, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles. Cinq Siécles d'Art, Brussels, 1935, no. 151, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- An Exhibition of Paintings by Living Masters of the Past, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1943, no. 9, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- 8 Masterpieces of Painting, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, 1944, not paginated, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- Themes and Variations in Painting and Sculpture, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1948, no. 98, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- Friedländer, Max J. Die altniederländische Malerei 14 vols. 1924-1937. Leiden, 1937: 14:11-12, 58, no. 5, pl. 5. (English ed., 14 vols., 1967-1976. Leiden, 1976: 14:18, 42, no. 5, pl. 5.)
- Glück Gustav. Bruegels Gemälde. Vienna, 1937: 15-16, 27, 40, no. 6a. repro.
- Friedländer, Max J. "Review of Bruegel's Gemälde by Gustav Glück." The Burlington Magazine 67 (1935): 90.
- Glück, Gustav. "Über einige Landschaftsgemälde Pieter Bruegels des Älteren." Jb Wien N.F. 9 (1935): 151-157, 161-162, pl. 3, 154, fig. 105.
- Puyvelde, Leo van. "Zwei Gemälde von Pieter Bruegel d.Ä." Pantheon 15 (1935): 47-50, repros. 47, 49, facing 47.
- Tolnay, Charles de. Pierre Bruegel l'Ancien. Brussels, 1935: 96, no. 54.
- Glück Gustav. Das Bruegel Buch. Vienna, 1936: 9-10, no. 4, repro. (Also eds. 1941, 1951).
- Glück Gustav. Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Paris, 1936: 11, 23, no. 3, repro.
- Raczynski, Joseph Alexander. Die flämische Landschaft vor Rubens. Frankfurt, 1937: 53.
- Jedlicka, Gotthard. Pieter Bruegel. Der Maler in seiner Zeit. Erlenbach, 1938: 540.
- Wetering, Cornelis van de. Die Entwicklung der niederländischen Landschaftsmalerei vom Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts bis zur Jahrhundertmitte. Berlin, 1938: 66, pl. 456.
- Frankfurter, Alfred. "Interpreting Masterpieces. Twenty-four Paintings from the Kress Collection." Art News 50 (1951): 115-116, repro. 110.
- Frankfurter, Alfred. "Washington: Celebration Evaluation." Art News 50 (April, 1951): 31, 62, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 204, no. 90., repro., as Landscape with the Temptation of St. Anthony Abbot.
- Castelli, Enrico. Il Demoniaco nell'Arte. Milan and Florence, 1952: 67, 69, pl. 42.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Interpreting Masterpieces: Twenty-four Paintings from the Kress Collection." Art News Annual 16 (1952): 115-116, repro. 110.
- Genaille, Robert. Brugel l'Ancien. Paris, 1953: 82, pl. 51.
- Hoogewerff, G.J. Het Landschap van Bosch tot Rubens. Antwerp, 1954: 48-49.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 38, repro., as Landscape with the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot by Bruegel.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 136.
- Delevoy, Robert. Bruegel. Geneva, 1959: 31-32, 39, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 291, repro., as by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder.
- Broadley Hugh T. Flemish Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 5 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 8, 32-33, color repro.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 6.
- Denis, Valentin. All the Paintings of Pieter Bruegel. New York, 1961: 45.
- Seymour, Charles. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 92, repro. pl. 84, color repro. pl. 85
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 76, color repro.
- Puyvelde, Leo van. La peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et Breughel. Paris, 1962: 118, 132, pl. 40.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 128, repro. 129.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 21, as by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:100-101, color repro., as by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder.
- European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 14, repro., as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- Klein, H. Arthur, and Mina Klein. Peter Bruegel the Elder. Artist of Abundance. New York, 1968: 184.
- Classens, Bob, and Jeanne Rousseau. Our Bruegel. Antwerp, 1969: 229-230, fig. 7.
- Roberts-Jones, Philippe. Bruegel, le peintre et son monde. Brussels, 1969: 47, no. 5, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue (National Gallery of Art). Washington, 1975: 116-117, no. 1102, repro., as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: fig. 191.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 93-96, figs. 91-92, as Landscape with the Temptation of St. Anthony Abbot, Attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
- Pope-Hennessy, John. "Completing the Account." Review of Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, London 1977. Times Literary Supplement no. 3927 (17 June 1977).
- Unverfehrt, Gerd. Hieronymus Bosch: Die Rezeption seiner Kunst im frühen 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1980: 184.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 70, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 29-33, repro. 31.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 47, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 120-121, no. 91, color repro.
- Vanwijnsberghe, Dominique et. al. Autor de la Madeleine Renders. Brussels, 2008: 259, no. 210, repro.
The panel consists of two boards whose grain runs horizontally. A split along the join line of the boards has been repaired across the center with a wide fill. This damage may have occurred prior to 1935, when the painting apparently fell off a wall. A strip of wood 1.3 cm wide has been added to the top of the painting. With the exception of the center split and the top edge, the painting is relatively free of inpainting. There is some retouching along the edges. A dendrochronological examination by Josef Bauch in 1977 suggested that 1543 +x/-2 was the earliest possible felling date. Infrared reflectography discloses underdrawing in the trees and other portions of the landscape, but none apparently in the figures. The painting received minor treatment in 1965, 1968, 1977, and 1982.
 Puyvelde 1935, 17.