Two of the Temptations of Jesus in the Desert by Satan and Jesus served by the Angels; Master François; miniature; from St Augustine’s “La Cité de Dieu”; manuscript MMW 10 A 11; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.


The Temptation in the desert

Unerstand the scene

Two characters: Jesus and the devil.

Jesus is more often than not standing in front of the devil who speaks to him and points at some objects. The devil is a grinning demon covered with hairs, with forked feet and bat’s wings, but he can also hide under a more human shape, for example, by putting on a monk’s clothing.

The easiest temptation to put in image is the first one, that of the stones that can become loaves of bread. It suffices for the devil to designate a heap of stones in order to show Jesus that he can use his spiritual power to satisfy his material desires.

The second temptation, which is to test divine protection by preventing Jesus from killing himself by jumping from the top of the Temple, dissociates the two characters. Jesus stays on the ground whereas the devil is sometimes difficult to see at the top of the Temple.

For the third one, it is impossible to show the domination of the kingdoms of the earth that the devil wants to exchange for his admiration; the artist identifies them with beautiful and rich cities.

 If an angel replaces the devil, this is the continuation of the narrative which indicates that the angels« served Jesus »


The biblical narrative

The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 4

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry. And when the tempter came to him, he said : "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made into bread." But he answered and said:
"It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God"
Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, And said to him: " If you are the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge over you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone"
Jesus said to him: "It is written again, you shall not tempt the Lord your God"

Again, the devil took him up to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; And said to him: "All these things I will give you, if you fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him: "Get away, Satan: for it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve"
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
(Matthew 4:1-11)



Jesus’ 40 fasting days echo the 40 years spent in the desert by the Hebrews waiting for their entry into the Promised Land. By overcoming the temptations, Jesus reveals he is ready to enter public life as the Messiah.

See similar pictures


The first temptation is the most frequently represented. The devil often takes a human form, that of a monk, among others.


The Temptation of Christ; Simon BENING; 1525-30; tempera and gold on parchment; from the Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Paul Getty trust



The First Temptation; William BLAKE; 1616; watercolour; illustration for Milton’s “Paradise Lost”; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

site origine


After the third temptation, Jesus chases the devil and the angels come near to serve him.


The Temptation of Christ; Fra ANGELICO; after 1450; fresco; fragment in cell 32; Museo San Marco, Florence

Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum



The Temptation on the Mountain; DUCCIO di Buoninsegna; 1308-11; tempera on wood; recto of the panel on Majesty; Frick Collection, New York

Web Gallery of Art





Further developpements



The three temptations

were understood as those of Abundance, wealth and power; which refers to three sins: greed, avarice and pride. To see the sin of avarice in the second temptation is rather strange.


Jesus’ 40 fasting days

have given the tradition of Lent which comes before Easter.

During that period of penance, Catholics are invited to abstain from food rich in fat, in particular from meat, and to cease profane feasts so as to turn their attention to pious works.

When the whole society had to live according to the precepts of the Church, it consisted in a diet without meat and in a particularly austere period. Hence the “loosening up of interdicts” during Carnival preceding Lent and in particular Shrove Tuesday (the last fat day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) and also during the truce at half-time (or the third Thursday in Lent). Today the discipline of Lent has become a personal affair and Catholics have put the stress on the sharing of goods with the poor of the world. But in some regions, Carnival is still feasted to excess.



In the Bible, the desert is the place of spiritual existence,

the one in which temptation occurs but also where God reveals himself through solitude, silence in a mineral nature.

This tradition of the desert is opposed to that of antique paganism that found the gods and the sacred in springs, forests and beasts.

This experience was continued by hermits, monks and other spiritual masters who looked for God in the “deserts”:

            true deserts like that of Egypt for St Anthony in the 4th century,

            deserted places like the medieval forests where the Cistercian monks of St Bernard de Clairvaux settled down,

            places where one could escape from persecution like the French Protestants who met secretly in the Cévennes area after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.




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