Monkeys as a playful metaphor
Since medieval times, monkeys have been considered shameless and impish creatures. They are also excellent imitators, who like to "ape" other behaviour. That is why monkeys in various human roles were often used as a playful metaphor for all the folly in our world. This "copper" from Jan Brueghel's early career, is probably one of the earliest examples of a Singerie.
"Ceres and Pan" above the door jamb
The artist probably would have seen monkeys in the zoo of the Archdukes in Brussels, and may have made a few oil sketches during his visit. They came in handy for this painting. Bruegel uses precise brushstrokes in thick layers of paint. There is no greater contrast with Rubens's technique and work. And yet the two masters often collaborated and were good friends. They even were godfather to each other's children. Did you spot the painting above the door jamb? This is a work from Rubens's studio, called "Ceres and Pan". The emblematic representation of the "cultivated" versus "wild" nature is a subtle comment on the bizarre scene with the monkeys below. Here you can see "Ceres and Pan" in the painting of Jan I Bruegel. If you wish to see the actual work, you will have to visit the Prado in Madrid.
- Jan I Bruegel (1568-1625)
- Monkeys feasting ("Singerie")
- Oil on copper
- Long-term loan, private collection