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The Monkey in Art

From symbolising sensory pleasure to poking fun at the follies of mankind: Lucy Cutler on the role of the monkey in art

Lucy Cutler

To contemporary eyes man has become the naked ape, but this was not always the case. The similarities between monkeys and men have always been recognised, but in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries monkeys formed part of the great chain of being and, like men, occupied a position between angels and animals. They were linked to the angels above by virtue of sharing their faculty of reason, while also being linked to the animals below through the experience of the senses. Monkeys and apes also became emblematic of man's baser nature; dependent on or trapped by sensory pleasure.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Reading list

H.W. Janson, Apes and ape lore in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Studies of the Warburg Institute series;vol.20), pub. University of London, 01/01/1952 www.amazon.co.uk

Ptolemy Tompkins, The Monkey in Art , pub. Scala, 01/01/1994 www.amazon.co.uk

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