Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,

“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.

Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

Luke 4:1-13

The Temptations of Christ Sandro Botticelli 1480–1482 Fresco Sistine Chapel, Rome

The Temptations of Christ
Sandro Botticelli
Sistine Chapel, Rome

From Faith Through Art by Norman Farmer:

Though it is densely populated by more than 60 persons (including Christ, four times, and the devil, three), the composition of the painting is really quite simple: a strong horizontal axis divides it into two distinct but dissimilar realms. Below, in the open space before a Jewish Temple, a large crowd has gathered to witness a priest performing the Old Covenant rite of purification (Lv 14:2-32) to acknowledge the healing of a leper whose disease was believed to be a result of spiritual failure. Several in this crowd, though are identifiable historical persons. Lorenzo di Medici, for example, stands behind the priest and alongside King Ferrante of Naples. Cardinal is Giuliano della Rovere (who would become Pope Julius II) stands opposite in the foreground. Dressed in a red tunic and holding a scepter is his cousin, Girolomo delle Rovere, then the commander of the papal army. Both men owed their offices to their uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. And all of them are associated, either as victims or conspirators and their respective allies in the notoriously bloody Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478, when Pope Sixtus, backed by the papal army and numerous collaborators (note the cabal of three men, far left), tried to topple the political leadership of the Medici in Florence by assassinating Giuliano de Medici but merely wounding his brother Lorenzo in an attack during Mass at the Duomo in Florence (see http://www.palazzo- medici.it/mediateca/en/Scheda_Congiura_dei_Pazzi). A cleric (far right) dressed in violet, the liturgical color of Lent, tries to direct the attention of the delle Rovere family to the purification ceremony to which a pregnant woman dressed in the colors of Hope, brings oak branches (the family symbol of the the pope’s della Rovere family) to burn upon the altar.


The First Temptation

The First Temptation

In the realm above, though, the painting proclaims that the Gospel Law, not the Old Law, offers the only valid solution to such tangled tales of personal ambition, political power and familial violence. Midway (to the left) between the two realms, Christ stands among the angels who ministered to him (Mk 1:12-13) as “he came up from the water” of baptism and beheld the heavens to open and “the [Holy] Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Mt 3:16). “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan”: first, in a dark and ominous wood; next, “on the parapet of the Temple”; and then, high on a precipice that overlooks “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.”

The Second Temptation

The Second Temptation

Each characterizes a region in fallen human minds and hearts where the Tempter works constantly to ensnare men’s souls by sowing pride, ambition and desire. “Perform magic,” he tempts. “Turn stones into bread and win the allegiance of men forever.” Next, he turns theologian and debates Psalm 91:11-12: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” and He will save you. Then, failing, he plays his desperation card, the last resort of the ensnared heart: “Prostrate yourself and worship me” – an egregious corruption of the greatest and the first commandment (Mt 22:38-39), whereupon Jesus sends him packing, headlong into a withered and sickly oak tree whose branches will keep the fires burning according to the Old Covenant.

The Third Temptation

The Third Temptation

From today’s perspective, the historical references in this painting may seem to be just that: references to a distant (and purely personal) past. Yet, as we look about ourselves and our world in this Lent we will see that Christ’s consistent reliance upon the first and greatest commandment at each of Satan’s temptations is the lesson to be learned and heeded in the rebellious and fractious world that we, too, inhabit. This painting will undoubtedly remain the most prominent and enduring visual homily on Christ’s Temptations in the vast repertory of Catholic sacred art.


From Web Gallery of Art:

The fresco is from the cycle of the life of Christ in the Sistine Chapel. It is located in the second compartment on the north wall.

The fresco which Botticelli began in July, 1481, is the third scene within the Christ cycle and depicts the Temptation of Christ. Christ’s threefold temptation by the Devil, as described in the Gospel according to Matthew, can be seen in the background of the picture, with the devil disguised as a hermit. At top left, up on the mountain, he is challenging Christ to turn stones into bread; in the centre, we see the two standing on a temple, with the Devil attempting to persuade Christ to cast himself down; on the right-hand side, finally, he is showing the Son of God the splendour of the world’s riches, over which he is offering to make Him master. However, Christ drives away the Devil, who ultimately reveals his true devilish form. On the right in the background, three angels have prepared a table for the celebration of the Eucharist, a scene which only becomes comprehensible when seen in conjunction with the event in the foreground of the fresco. The unity of these two events from the point of view of content is clarified by the reappearance of Christ with three angels in the middle ground on the left of the picture, where He is apparently explaining the incident occurring in the foreground to the heavenly messangers. We are concerned here with the celebration of a Jewish sacrifice, conducted daily before the Temple in accordance with ancient custom. The high priest is receiving the blood-filled sacrificial bowl, while several people are bringing animals and wood as offerings.

At first sight, the inclusion of this Jewish sacrificial scene in the Christ cycle would appear extremely puzzling; however, its explanation may be found in the typological interpretation. The Jewish sacrifice portrayed here refers to the crucifixion of Christ, who through His death offered of His flesh and blood for the redemption of mankind. Christ’s sacrifice is reconstructed in the celebration of the Eucharist, alluded to here by the gift table prepared by the angels.

One thought on “Temptations

  1. hermitsdoor says:

    Thanks for the historical character details. The Biblical reference I had figured out. I suspected that the images in the ground level scenes were specific people. As to Lorenze de Medici, he is one of our favorite Florentines, in that he shows up in paintings, directly and indirectly, of this era. When we visit the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., we stop by the room that has his bust to say, “Hello”. Quite an imposing figure. Now, we have one more reference to his influence and power.

    Liked by 1 person

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