St. Anthony, who lived sometime during the 4th century, is remembered for his decision to live in complete asceticism: after selling all his posessions, he left his home near Fayum, Egypt and crossed the Nile to live alone in a run-down fort for the remainder of his life. For some reason unknown to me, he is now revered as the patron saint of skin diseases.
There are many stories describing the temptations that St. Anthony faced while isolated in the desert and numerous artistic renditions of the old man being accosted by truly fantastical demons. My favorite is Martin Schongauer’s engraving: the altercation takes place floating in midair, and the straightforward detailed line drawings of those bizarre creatures remind me of zoological sketches. High points of the drawing include the spikey,saggy porpoise/hedgehog/elephant clubbing poor ol’ Anthony in the head with a stick and the disturbingly exaggerated butthole of the creature on the bottom right. St. Anthony seems fairly unconcerned about the whole encounter.
Martin Schongauer, St. Anthony Tormented by Demons. 1445, Germany.
Michelangelo painted an interpretation of this image around the age of 13.
…And then follow many many other variations on the theme:
Bernardino Parenzano in 1494.
Hieronymus Bosch in 1505.
Matthias Grunewald in 1515 as part of the Isenheim Alterpiece.
Marten de Vos in 1594.
And a non-Renaissance, yet still relevant example:
Dalí keepin’ it alive in 1946.