Do you know what Michelangelo, the master of Renaissance art, painted for his first painting? It was a picture of Anthony the Great tormented by demons, which the artist painted at the age of 12. How could a 12-year-old child depict something like this with such masterful skills?
Michelangelo considered himself as a sculptor but he was trained as a painter in his early years. He joined the atelier of Domenico Ghirlandaio, a well-known painter from Florence, at the age of 13 but soon surpassed his teacher. His first painting of Saint Anthony is thought to have been painted right before he joined the atelier. Saint Anthony is a third-century Egyptian monk who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ to give out all of his belongings to poor neighbors and lived as an austere hermit for 35 years in a desert. Practicing asceticism naturally accompanies suffering and temptations. Demons tempted and threatened Saint Anthony and this is the scene described by Michelangelo. He imitated a copy of a black and white engraving by German engraving artist Martin Schongauer but the two have differences. As the saying “imitation precedes creation” goes, the young painter modified the original based on his own ideas and added new images to recreate it into a unique piece. The landscape at the bottom of the painting, which reminds of a valley in the Arno River in Florence, and silver scales on a monster resembling fish are new details. The young boy examined fish at a fish market for a more lively painting and depicted the saint with a more firm attitude. While the saint is being pulled by his arms and clothes and beaten by demons, he is holding his head high, which is an expression that his faith is not going to be challenged. In fact, the saint defeated demons with courage and became a respectable leader for other monks.
Everyone faces temptations in life. Being challenged, having conflicting feelings, and agonizing are human traits. Demons may lure you with a face of an angel or threaten you in the shape of a monster. The 12-year-old genius from five centuries ago might have wanted to deliver a message that disintegration would follow if one fails to resist demonic temptations.