In the collection of Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford are nine fragments of a Tuscan altarpiece depicting the Lives of the Desert Fathers, painted by an unknown artist in the mid fifteenth century. The panels were a visual narrative, a Biblia Pauperum, with which to teach the stories of the medieval church. In the early nineteenth century they were cut up and dispersed. All of the fragments have been identified, in collections at the Kunsthaus in Zьrich, Yale University, and the National Gallery of Scotland. The group at Christ Church is the largest.
Clive Hicks–Jenkins has made a contemporary response to the Christ Church fragments in the form of a sequence of eight paintings titled The Temptations of Solitude, and a series of associated studies. Just as the original artist depicted the desert as the Tuscan landscape familiar to him, Clive has set his paintings in his own time and place, drawing imagery from the landscapes and buildings of post–industrial Wales. The stories of men who entered the wilderness in search of enlightenment and the mortification of the flesh are the inspiration for a spiritual, personal and poetic dialogue over more than five centuries.