Satirical paintings with monkeys, so-called singeries, were popular during the 17th century in Flanders. This popularity should be seen against the contemporary political and military context of our Spanish, Habsburg Netherlands.
About monkey tricks
“Singeries” or monkey tricks were a popular subject in Flemish painting during the 17th century and later in French Rococo painting during the 18th century.
Comical scenes with monkeys behaving like humans had been introduced in Flemish art by the Renaissance engraver Pieter van der Borcht the Elder (circa 1530 – 1608) around 1575 in a series of prints.
Typical of the Flemish monkey scenes is their sense for satirical humour, often with a moralizing tendency, criticizing the monkeys’ and therefore man’s (stupid) behaviour and his sense for social hierarchy.
Later in French painting these subjects got, typical of the Rococo period of course, a more decorative and less sharp meaning, often in combination with Chinese decors.
I should also mention in applied arts the famous porcelain monkey orchestras produced in Saxony, Germany, at the Meissen factory from around the middle of the 18th century onwards.
The popularity of these singeries in Flanders is of course historical: Flanders was since the Middle Ages one of the richest regions of Europe, but it had been in the hands of foreign powers. Mild forms of satire and sense for “surrealism” were a second nature for our writers and artists.
About our painting
Although very few of these 17th century Flemish monkey tricks are signed many have been attributed in full to David II Teniers, his younger brother Abraham Teniers, Sebastiaen Vranckx, Frans Francken II or Ferdinand van Kessel I.
Several other versions of our composition exist, most of these have been sold at auction as by Ferdinand van Kessel I. Written sources mention that he painted monkey tricks, but not a single painting can securely be attributed to him, as no signed works are know by him. Another unsigned version of the same composition at the Museum of Duisburg is attributed in full to Frans Francken II. Ursula Härting has confirmed this attribution in 1989 in her monograph on the painter.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a nice example of 17th century humour in Flemish painting.