Guardroom with Monkeys


Guardroom with Monkeys

c. 1633 Belgium

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Pictures of monkeys had been popular from the sixteenth-century and it was Teniers who developed the theme in the seventeenth-century. By the time Teniers painted Guardroom with Monkeys around 1633, monkeys had appeared in images as diverse as playing cards, Dürer prints and paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Indeed, by the early 1630s there had been close to a century of monkey images circulated in the Netherlands and their long association with sinfulness and folly would not have been lost on Teniers' viewers, the educated humanist set of which he was a member. The primary role of the monkey in visual and literary sources of the sixteenth century was to represent the irrational and foolish side of man's nature, but the underlying suspicions about these animals reveal considerably darker connotations. Indeed, Luther believed that they were actually devils and Calvin described them as apostles of the Antichrist. Both the Devil and the Antichrist were referred to as 'apes' (or imitators) of God, diametrically opposed to everything beautiful and good (see M. Sullivan, ‘Peter Bruegel the Elder’s Two Monkeys: A New Interpretation,’ The Art Bulletin, vol. 63, 1981, pp. 116-8). Dürer's engraving, Madonna with a Monkey, suggests this dichotomy by contrasting the Virgin, who sits in an idyllic landscape holding the Christ Child on her knee, with a chained monkey at her feet. Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Two Monkeys (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) of 1562 has been interpreted as a depiction of two specific sins, avarice and prodigality. The two chained monkeys appear within the arched window of a building with thick stone walls overlooking a city. Scattered empty nut shells associate the monkey on the right with prodigality while the monkey on the left, who looks directly at the viewer, appears to hold something to his chest and is, thus, associated with avarice.

Teniers depicted them in various settings, such as Monkeys in a kitchen (Hermitage, St Petersburg, inv. no. 568), School for monkeys (Prado, Madrid, inv. no. 1808), or, as in our picture Guardroom with Monkeys. The title page to Het Apenspel inde Werelt, a set of engravings after designs by David Teniers, shows monkeys dancing, drinking, playing cards, smoking and merrymaking. Monkeys at the time were seen as stupid animals, who merely aped the wasteful activities of man.

In many ways, Guardroom with Monkeys is like any other contemporary depiction of soldiers at rest. They gather around tables playing games, drinking, and smoking well into the night as suggested by the moon in the circular window above the door. Their armour has been removed, their pikes have been stowed, and the flag of their company has been rolled up and stored on the far wall. An element of drama, however, has been introduced by the appearance of night-watchmen at the door presenting a startled cat to the captain of the monkey company. The cat wears respectable burgerlijk dress in notable contrast to the foppery of the soldiers and stands between two guards with his tail between his legs. The civilian dress of the cat, together with details such as the funnel on the head of the captain's deputy and the pot worn as a hat by the seated soldier in the foreground at the left, raise questions about the legitimacy of their authority.

As the monkey was associated with the fool in sixteenth century literary and visual culture it is most likely the lighter side of this symbolism to which Teniers refers in Guardroom with Monkeys. In Sebastian Brandt's Ship of fools, for example, Dame Folly leads monkeys and fools by a rope and Brandt associates “apes or fools in high places” with the pride of the powerful in his chapter on the presumption of the proud. A chained monkey wearing fool's garb and looking the wrong way through a telescope appears in Teniers' Vanitas allegory (see M. Klinge, op cit., p. 32) painted in the same period as the Colnaghi painting.

Teniers' monkey subjects fall roughly into two periods, the early 1630s in Antwerp and the 1660s during his tenure as court painter to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels. Interestingly the majority of Teniers' monkeys from the Antwerp period appear as soldiers. In his Festival of Monkeys, also painted in 1633 (Klinge, op cit., pp. 34-5), soldier-monkeys celebrate in tents set up in a lush landscape. They sit around the table enjoying the abundant food and wine beneath the image of an owl wearing spectacles, which refers to the saying “what good are spectacles and candle when the owl does not want to see”.

Both the Festival of Monkeys and Guardroom with Monkeys embody Brandt's commentary on “fools in high places” and could well represent Teniers' own criticism of the bloated military ranks in the southern Netherlands at the time. Despite the myth of the placidity of the Golden Age, soldiers played an important role in the society of the northern and southern Netherlands. Indeed, they were at war with one another for most of the first half of the century and were occupied with English and French aggression for the second half. Teniers associated himself with his monkey paintings around the 1630s as he included both Festival of Monkeys and Guardroom with Monkeys in his self portrait of 1635, known as The Artist in his Studio (fig. 1; Klinge, op cit., p. 50). He appears at the lower left in front of his easel, paint brush and palette in hand. In an unusual combination of genres, his studio is depicted as a kind of picture gallery with young connoisseurs considering his work. These two paintings, together with several other early works, are singled out for special consideration by their placement on a chair in the foreground right.

The son of David Teniers the Elder, David the Younger became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1632 - 33 after an apprenticeship to his father, with whom he also collaborated. In 1637 he married Anna, the daughter and heiress of Jan Brueghel I. Teniers produced small scale religious scenes as well as genre pieces, for which he was most famous. He quickly became one of Antwerp’s pace-setting and most successful painters, which probably accounts for his assumption of functions that carried a degree of social prominence, such as the office of Master of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in the St Jacobskerk between 1637 and 1639, and Dean of the Guild of St Luke in 1644 - 5. He also received extremely prestigious commissions such as the large group portrait of the Arquebusiers’ Company (1641, St. Petersburg, Hermitage). During this same Antwerp period he also executed commissions for Antoine Triest (1576 – 1657), Bishop of Bruges, one of the most prominent patrons of the arts in the southern Netherlands. By 1647 Teniers was working in Brussels for Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the Southern Netherlands from 1646, and in 1651 he became the Archduke’s court painter. He consequently moved from Antwerp to the court at Brussels, and in 1656 he bought a building near the archducal palace. Teniers was granted noble status in 1663 and, through his influence at court, succeeded in establishing an academy in Antwerp in 1665.
with H. Steinmeyer, Luzern; Reinhardt, New York, 1927; M. Schloss; with Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1936; Looted by the Nazi authorities, July 1940; Recovered by the Allies, 1946; in the custody of the Dutch Government; Restituted in February 2006 to the heir of Jacques Goudstikker.
Bolsward, Stadhuis, Het dier in de Beeldende kunst Bolsward, 17 June-29 August 1953, no. 134; Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, David Teniers de Jonge: Schilderijen, Tekeningen, 1991, no. 6; The Hague, Mauritshuis, on loan.
Old Master Paintings: An illustrated summary catalogue, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst (The Netherlandish Office for the Fine Arts), The Hague, 1992, p. 288, no. 2536, illustrated; E.P. van der Ploeg Buijsen, 'Acquisitions for the Mauritshuis over the past two years', Mauritshuis in focus, VI, 1993, pp. 29-30, nos. 2, 9; N. Sluijter-Seiffert, Mauritshuis: Illustrated general catalogue, Amsterdam, 1993, p. 196, no. 1092.
Height 41.00 cm (16.14 inches)
Width 58.00 cm (22.83 inches)
Oil on panel
Signed and dated: D.TENIERS Fec. Ca. 1633
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