A naked woman drapes herself lasciviously over the huddled body of a man wearing a thick homespun robe. His face turned to the ground, the monk frantically kisses the cross to escape the temptation of the flesh.
Tradition has it that Saint Anthony, having gone into retreat in the desert, was haunted by visions of alluring women. However, this episode from the hermit’s life does not seem to have been an excuse for Auguste Rodin. The work invites us to view it from all sides so as to feel all the psychological and physical tension of the situation. The sculptor emphasized the contrast between the tense, tormented body of the saint and the naked body of the woman voluptuously upturned and offered to him. The monk is almost completely hidden under his coarse habit, his head covered by the hood. The folds of the garment demonstrate his tension while the features of his face pressed to the cross show his inner struggle. The woman is a luminous body without a soul.
The different ways in which the marble is treated, like a reminder of the stages of creation, increase this antagonism. On the barely smoothed and almost untouched base, Rodin has rendered the roughness of the woolen cloth—and of the character—with traces left by his chisel. The polished white marble, playing with the light and the curves, is reserved for the woman’s body.