Demons in Art – by Michaelangelo, 1487

The Torment of Saint Anthony, 1487
Michelangelo Buonarroti

This is the first known painting by Michelangelo, described by his earliest biographers and believed to have been painted when he was twelve or thirteen years old.

  • Date: 1487
  • Period: 15th century
  • Medium: Tempera on panel
  • Dimensions: 18 1/2 x 13 3/4 in.
  • Accession number: AP 2009.01
  • Gallery location: Kimbrell Art Museum Kahn Building, South Gallery

About the Art Piece

Although Michelangelo considered himself first and foremost a sculptor, he received his early training as a painter, in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1449–1494), a leading master in Florence. Michelangelo’s earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi, tell us that, aside from some drawings, his first work was a painted copy of the engraving Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons by the fifteenth-century German master Martin Schongauer. The rare subject is found in the life of Saint Anthony the Great, written by Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century, which describes how the Egyptian hermit-saint had a vision that he levitated into the air and was attacked by demons, whose torments he withstood.

Created when he was informally associated with Ghirlandaio’s workshop and under the guidance of an older friend, the artist Francesco Granacci, Michelangelo’s painting earned him widespread recognition. Writing when Michelangelo was still alive, both Vasari and Condivi recounted that to give the demonic creatures veracity, he studied the colorful scales and other parts of specimens from the fish market. Michelangelo subtly revised Schongauer’s composition, making it more compact and giving the monsters more animal-like features, notably adding fish scales to one of them. He also included a landscape that resembles the Arno River Valley around Florence. The work is one of only four easel paintings generally regarded as having come from his hand and the first painting by Michelangelo to enter an American collection.


Scorzi collection, Pisa, 1830s; from which acquired by Baron Henry de Triqueti [1803-1874], Paris, probably in 1837; his daughter, Mrs. Edward Lee Childe [1837-1886], (née Blanche de Triqueti), Paris; (her deceased sale, Catalogue de tableaux oeuvres remarquables de la renaissance. . .provenant de la Collection de M. le baron de Triqueti, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 4 May 1886, no. 5, bought in); her husband, Mr. Edward Lee Childe, Paris and Château de Varennes, near Montargis, Loiret [1836-1911]; given to Sir Paul Harvey [1869-1948], London and Sussex, before 1905; his widow, Ethel Frances Persse Harvey, [died 1966]; given to a friend, United Kingdom; (Anonymous sale (“The Property of a Lady”), Catalogue of Important Old Master Paintings, London, Sotheby & Co., 7 December 1960, no. 17, unsold (as by Michelangelo)); her son, United Kingdom;
(Anonymous sale (“The Property of a Gentleman”), Catalogue of Old Master Paintings, Evening Sale, London, Sotheby’s, 9 July 2008, no. 69, (as Workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio));
(purchased by Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd, New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2009.

View the Art

Click below to visit the virtual exhibit online where you can see a high resolution scan of this art piece.

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