Madonna and Child with St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Anthony Abbot

Madonna and Child with St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Anthony Abbot
Artist unknown
Triptych. Oil on hinged wood panels


In contrast to intricate altarpieces that open to reveal or conceal scenes to celebrate seasons of the liturgical calendar this simple triptych folds to protect the painted surfaces and perhaps to make it compact for travel. Mary, mother of Jesus, is in the center panel, with the infant clothed in a white tunic and already independent and triumphant as he stands upon his mother’s lap. A thin golden ring surrounds the Virgin’s head, while Jesus’ halo marks the upper points of a cross. His left hand rests tenderly on Mary’s breast while his right proclaims the Trinity.

On the left wing is St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–c. 110), who is thought to have studied under Apostles Peter and Paul, and became Bishop in the city. Antioch, in the Roman province Syria, now an area of Turkey, was a center for early Christians and the Hellenistic Jewish community. Charged for failure to revere the gods Ignatius received unusual treatment. Rather than suffering execution by local authority he was sent to Rome under guard by a circuitous route. Along the way Ignatius was allowed to meet with Christian leaders and congregations, and composed seven epistles to the churches which became foundational for Christian thought. He anticipated his martyrdom, which by tradition was fulfilled as a spectacle with lions in the Colosseum. In the Bridwell triptych Ignatius is shown wearing a mitre on his head and holding a crozier as signs of his office. A lion of his execution gnaws the edge of his robe.

The ascetic monk Anthony Abbot (251–356), or Anthony the Great, is depicted on the right panel. Anthony spent his life in Egypt retreating into the desert, dwelling among tombs, ruins, and caves. His biographer Athanasius (296–373) tells of Anthony selling his inherited property and foregoing all but the most extreme essentials as he survived on a diet of bread, salt, and water. Depictions detail the temptations he withstood and his torment by demons. Anthony is often shown among domesticated animals like sheep, pigs, and dogs, and in the Bridwell painting, perhaps in reference to Anthony’s victory over the temptation of lethargy, a snoozing hound has been placed beneath his feet and staff. Contrary to Athanasius’s description of Anthony as an illiterate monk Bridwell’s painting has him holding and reading a small book.

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South Stairs
Madonna and Child with St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Anthony Abbot