Two Monkeys (1562) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Two Monkeys - Pieter Bruegel the Elder - 1562

Artwork Information

TitleTwo Monkeys
ArtistPieter Bruegel the Elder
Dimensions20 x 23 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationStaatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany

About Two Monkeys

The artwork “Two Monkeys” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, dating back to 1562, is an oil painting on oak that exemplifies the Northern Renaissance movement. Its modest dimensions are 20 x 23 cm, and it falls under the genre of animal painting. Currently, it is housed in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, located in Berlin, Germany.

The painting portrays two monkeys, both shackled by chains, within what appears to be a segment of a vaulted structure, possibly a window. The monkeys are depicted in a realistic manner, displaying Bruegel’s keen observation of nature and his talent for imbuing animals with human-like expression. The monkey in the foreground is seated, gazing directly towards the viewer, while the other is turned, with its back partially to the viewer, engaging in self-grooming or peering at the ground, where some fragments are scattered.

In the background, through the vaulted opening, a distant and serene maritime scene unfolds, with ships moving through the waters, hinting at the broader world beyond the immediate confines of the monkeys’ captivity. The contrast between the freedom implied by the distant ships and the restrained lives of the monkeys may suggest a deeper allegorical meaning, which is characteristic of Bruegel’s work. The somber mood is enhanced by the muted color palette and the stark representation of the subjects’ constrained condition.

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