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The Temptation in the Wilderness

Briton Rivière1898

City of London Corporation

City of London Corporation
London, United Kingdom

Briton Rivere was a technically sophisticated and talented artist, best known for his animal paintings. The biblical subject refers to the 40 days and 40 nights Christ spends in the desert being tempted to misuse his power by Satan. The painting is far more impressionistic than Rivere's other works, perhaps even experimental. The white figure of Christ stands out against the rich glow of the sky, with both sky and figure focused by the gloom of the landscape. Underneath, barely visible, a lone fox stalks off to the left, so that even this sparse, atmospheric religious scene contains one of Rivere's animals. The bright star overhead seems to be the sole point of focused light, and may in fact be a covert reference to Lucifer, the literal meaning of the name being 'light-bringer', often used to refer directly to Venus, the morning star. The presence of evil here is not literalised (there is no demon depicted) but is neverthless tangible as a force. In the drooping figure of Jesus we might read the effort of resistance and the quiet dignity of his role as saviour of mankind; the impression given is perhaps of the devil as a voice in his ear, a symbolic temptor. The red glow on the horizon suggests a new day dawning, the renewal of hope, suggesting the role of Christ as the 'light of the world' which will eventually render the star of Lucifer invisible.

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