Limbourg Brothers
The Temptation of Christ

1402-1406
Miniature
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Condé Museum MS. 65, fol. 161v
Chantilly, France

In Matthew 4 and Luke 4 the devil takes Jesus to a high mountaintop and shows him "all the kingdoms of the world." He says if Jesus will adore him, "To thee will I give all this power, and the glory of them; for to me they are delivered, and to whom I will, I give them." In this miniature prepared for the Duke of Berry, the foremost among these "kingdoms of the world" is the duke's own palace, the Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre.

As usual in medieval images of the temptation of Christ, the devil is represented as a grotesque. With his right hand he appears to offer Jesus a golden cup.

The lion in the lower right symbolizes two aspects of Christ. First, the Physiologus says the lion eludes hunters by covering its tracks with its tail, just as "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the spiritual lion…hid his spiritual identity in Mary's womb." Christ's hidden divinity at this point in his earthly life is an important issue in the commentaries, which emphasize that the devil did not think Jesus could be the promised Son of God because he was experiencing hunger.1

Secondly, the lion was believed to sleep with its eyes open and thus is a model of vigilance. In the miniature the lion-as-Christ exercises that vigilance by keeping guard over the ape in the tree, a creature that "resembles the devil in every way."2

Probably the swans in the river, like the ships and boats, are being used for local color rather than as symbols. Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:16 (Vulgate) list them among the birds that the Israelites are forbidden to eat.

Read more about the temptation of Chris in the desert.
Read more about the lion symbol.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

NOTES

1 Physiologus, chapter 1 (my translation). Catena Aurea, I, 121 and V, 144. Glossa Ordinaria, V, 82 and 744.
2 Sill, 23. Bestiare, 74, 143 (my translation). The Bestiare calls the creature a singe, "monkey," but speaks of it as having no tail. In reality monkeys have tails and apes do not