Things I Saw on Vacation – The Timkin Museum



[click image to enlarge]

Sorry to have been AWOL for a while. I was on vacation in San Diego. While there, I visited the small (free!) Timkin Museum in Balboa Park. They have an excellent collection of art from the middle ages through the 1800’s. To follow are a series of posts highlighting things there that struck my fancy.

Today, a painting from around 1510 by the Italian painter Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo. I have never seen anything by Savoldo before, so it was fun to encounter something new. This painting has some awesome drama and gives us a look into the very fires of Hell. Let’s go!…


One of the things I enjoy about this kind of painting is the attempt to depict worlds beyond our experience… in this case, the fires of Hell. In a way, these works like this were the science fiction of the times, though I’m sure most viewers did not feel the place depicted was fiction, and that certainly added to the painting’s impact.



Torment of St. Anthony  (ca. 1515-20)
Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
Oil on panel, 70 x 119 cm ; 27 x 47 in.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons / Charlie Douglas Photos







shipDemons! Fire! I love the little dudes in the right side of the painting. Savoldo was aware of Hieronymus Bosch, a Flemish painter who was a real wizard a painting little monsters and odd creatures. In this image, St. Anthony, a Christian hermit who was devoted to prayer is fleeing an awful place. Sadly St. Anthony was tormented by demons and visions of Hell. Here, he is fleeing one such vision. It’s quite dramatic. In addition to loads of troublesome demons – enthusiastically tormenting more unfortunate souls –  we see tornados of fire and a sailing ship. I’m not sure what the ship represents, but I think perhaps that is the ferry boat on which the mythical Charon piloted new souls into Hell. St Anthony, thank God (and he is), has made his escape. He flees into a warm and pastoral scene, and toward the monastery on the hill. Toward goodness, and away from temptation and evil.

Here’s an excellent blog post by screenwriter Kiaya Mangan about this painting. Far more scholarly than anything I can put together.


Hell was a big deal in the 1500’s. Depending on where he/she lived, a person could get in a lot of trouble for not believing the mandated doctrine. Think Spanish Inquisition, Protestant Reformation etc, etc. Bottom line: you’d best toe the line or you risked being tortured/beheaded/burnt. So reality was pretty scary, and the doctrines were too. A painting like this was most certainly a moral lesson and as well as a tribute to St. Anthony. Behave and stay out of the fire.


Another by Savoldo - and less fantastical: Gentleman with Flute. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click to Enlarge.
Another by Savoldo – and less fantastical: Gentleman with Flute. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click to Enlarge.

Got me thinking:  How many people still (really) believe in Hell? According to a recent (2013) poll by Harris/Nielson, 58% of their poll group said they believe in Hell. That actually strikes me as quite high, but go figure. They polled 2,250 American adults.


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