Odilon Redon’s Temptations


Saint-Antoine: Au secours, mon Dieu! (Saint Anthony: Help me, O my God!)

St. Anthony and his temptations provide another connection between the Surrealists and the Symbolists via Gustave Flaubert and his phantasmagoric drama. Flaubert’s The Temptation of St Anthony (1874) doesn’t quite stand in relation to the art of the time as does Oscar Wilde’s Salomé but, with its predominant themes of sex, death and spiritual transcendence, it both suited and pre-empted the concerns of the Decadence. Odilon Redon was particularly taken with the book, and from 1888 to 1896 produced three sets of lithograph illustrations. The examples here are from the final set of 24 images. A few of these are the ones you see most often in Symbolist studies, often in poor reproductions, but the other sets have some memorable moments. What’s most notable about all the drawings is how little the saint appears in them, Redon choosing to depict either the visions or the subjects of Flaubert’s philosophical discussions. See the complete set here.


Et partout ce sont des Colonnes de basalte, … la lumière tombe des voûtes (And on every side are columns of basalt, … the light falls from the vaulted roof)


Mes baisers ont le gout d’un fruit qui se fondrait dans ton cœur! … Tu me dédaignes! Adieu! (My kisses have the taste of fruit which would melt in your heart! … You distain me! Farewell!)


Des fleurs tombent, et la tête d’un python paraît (Flowers fall and the head of a python appears)


Et que des yeux sans tête flottaient comme des mollusques (And the eyes without heads were floating like molluscs)


Oannès: Moi, la première conscience du chaos, j’ai surgi de l’abîme pour durcir la matière, pour régler les formes (Oannès: I, the first consciousness of chaos, arose from the abyss that I might harden matter, and give law unto forms)


Je suis toujours la grande Isis! Nul n’a encore soulevé mon voile! Mon fruit est le soleil! (I am still the great Isis! None has yet lifted my veil! My fruit is the Sun!)


Antoine: Quel est le but de tout cela? Le Diable: Il n’y a pas de but! (Anthony: What is the point of all this? The Devil: There is no point!)


La Mort: C’est moi qui te rends sérieuse; enlaçons-nous (Death: It is I who makes you serious; let us embrace each other)


J’ai quelquefois aperçu dans le ciel comme des formes d’esprits (I have sometimes seen in the sky what seemed like forms of spirits)


Des peuples divers habitent les pays de l’Océan (Different peoples inhabit the countries of the Ocean)


Le jour enfin paraît … et dans le disque même du soleil, rayonne la face de Jésus-Christ (Day appears at last … and in the very disk of the sun shines face of Jesus Christ)

Previously on { feuilleton }
More chimeras
Odilon Redon’s musical afterlife
Odilon Redon and Magazine
Odilon Redon lithographs
The eyes of Odilon Redon

2 thoughts on “Odilon Redon’s Temptations”

  1. ” I, the first consciousness of chaos, arose from the abyss…” Is this the first mention of Peter Higgs’ Boson?

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