St Anthony – Get to know the iconography and 3 main attributes


Get to know who was St Anthony and how to identify him.

In this post learn how to identify the representations of St Anthony by his attributes.

Cover image: Sermon of Saint Anthony to the Fishes, tile panel, Guimarães, Portugal.

Learn how to apply methods of iconographic analysis and recognise symbols and attributes of the Saints, through practical exercises and other resources for future use.

Online course - Iconography of the Saints. 

Who was St Anthony


St Anthony

St Anthony of Lisbon (or Padua) was a doctor of the church who lived at the turn of sec. XII for sec. XIII.

He was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died in Padua in 1231.

Having belonged initially to the order of Santa Cruz, he embraced the franciscan rule in 1220.

He traveled through France and Italy and was an important theologian, orator, and thaumaturge.

He left writings attesting to his great culture and was a noted preacher.

Identification of characters and episodes in works of art

In the context of Art History , the careful description and interpretation of artistic objects allows us toIconography of the saints see something more than what is immediately presented.

The use of attributes (associated objects or symbols) came alongside a need to identify the religious characters before a mostly illiterate audience.

In the beginning, we can still find the names of the Saints painted on their halo or on the filacterium (a silk band that usually carries a message and can be across the chest, at the bottom of the figure).

However, the use of signs or symbols, as was tradition in pagan religions, proved much more efficient, having been more accepted over time.

The Saint was this way singled out by his/hers physical aspect, clothing, weaponry, accompanying animals or other symbols related to their life story.

We can distinguish a Saint by two aspects:

– their characteristics – referring to physical appearance and clothing;

– their attributes – the elements of various kinds that generally relate to their condition, occupation, life history or martyrdom.

Representations and attributes of St Anthony

He is often represented in Art. Both in works of religious art and in works of folk art.

st Anthony of Lisbon

St Anthony , Lisbon


He is the patron saint of popular festivals in various parts of the world and particularly in Lisbon.

He is considered as “matchmaker”. There is a special feast at the Church of his name in Lisbon. The “Weddings of St. Anthony”, sponsored by the City Hall.

Important episodes

While praying one day, he approached the altar of the Virgin Mary and asked her if he could hug the Child. The Virgin appeared to him, putting Jesus in his arms.

Common representations

Bears Franciscan habit and receives the figure of Jesus from the arms of the Virgin;

Embracing the Child, who rests on a book.




Jesus as a Child/Baby

References and other meanings

There is a version of the story of this Saint that says the vision occurred while reading, having the Child risen from out of the book.

Learn more about art analysis and iconography