Continental. First Quarter Of The Eighteenth Century.


Length: 36 1/2 " (92.7 cm); Width: 27 1/4" (69.2 cm).

Of woven wool of various colors on a brown ground. The border old but later. Possible old strengthening of some colors. 

Bears shipping label:
Bill Reider Metropolitan Museum

Property from the Estate of Bill Reider, former curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This tapestry represents the great European tradition of the use of the monkey as a decorative motif. Although popular during the first half of the eighteenth century in France, and giving rise to a genre of room decoration in its own right known as the singerie or Monkey-Trick, during the medieval period the monkey had been viewed negatively and associated with the devil. It was in the sixteenth century that Dutch and Flemish artists first noted the animal’s expressive potential. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c. 1529-1569), a superbly naturalistic animal artist in the tradition of Albrect Dürer, painted a pair of monkeys in captivity in 1562 that seems remarkably sympathetic to their plight (figure 1). Like much of his art, it might have been an allegory relating to the Spanish occupation of his homeland. It was David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) who first recognized the monkey’s humorous potential, and its possible use to satirize human beings. Teniers presented monkeys going about human daily activities such as playing cards, cooking, drinking and smoking, sometimes in human dress. Teniers’ monkey paintings enjoyed considerable popularity; it is said that Philip IV of Spain owned several and some remain in the Prado Museum today including one depicting a monkey sculptor.1

The monkey on the present tapestry is holding a basket with an elaborate display of flowers. This relates it to the Dutch and Flemish genre of still life, particularly the work of animal painters like Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695) who, although most famous as a painter of birds, also often included monkeys in his compositions (figure 2). Perhaps the tapestry is most similar to the work of the Flemish still-life artist Frans Snyders (1579-1657), who also showed monkeys behaving naturally, often stealing fruit and nuts from bowls and baskets, the rendering of the fruit, basket and monkey in the present tapestry are reminiscent of his work (figure 3). The appearance of the flowers borrows from the Dutch tradition of flower painting, especially the work of artists like Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621) and Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1684). Such still life paintings were imbued with symbolic meaning; Hondecoeter liked to show his monkeys next to peacocks, where the monkey represented unchecked appetite, and the peacock vanity. Flowers in Dutch art were a symbol of vanitas, intended to remind the viewer of the transitory nature of life. The juxtaposition of the monkey and flowers in the tapestry is interesting and unusual, and may be intended to remind the viewer of the folly of coveting transitory wealth and worldly goods.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.