Lurking in the shadows, grotesque monsters slowly emerge to taunt Saint Anthony. Grinning with satanic delight, the demons take human and animal forms. Unperturbed, Saint Anthony continues to read his meditations. Divine light illuminates his figure, forming a bright halo around his head. After his parents' death, this early Christian monk retired to the Egyptian desert to contemplate God. He remained there for fifteen years; during this time he began his legendary combat against the devil, withstanding demonic apparitions and erotic visions. After resisting temptations, Saint Anthony emerged at last from the desert and organized and instructed a group of hermits who sought to imitate his example. Thus he became the father of Christian monasticism.
Lelio Orsi depicted this struggle of good and evil, vividly using light and shadow, loose, painterly brushwork, and a strong diagonal composition. Included in the painting are Saint Anthony's attributes: a tau cross (T-shaped), the pig, and the crutch at his side.