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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.
|Height||41.00 cm||(16.14 inches)|
|Width||58.00 cm||(22.83 inches)|