21 June, 10:22

Cup with monkeys from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cup with monkeys from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Monkey Cup is one of the best-preserved examples of medieval enamel created for the royal court. This work demonstrates the high level of craftsmanship of its time and illustrates a popular parable about human folly.

The scenes on the goblet depict a merchant being robbed in his sleep by a troop of monkeys. A man tries in vain to stop the animals from tearing off his clothes. The monkeys, having stolen the goods, happily jump on the branches above the merchant's head. The plot conveys the idea of ​​human vulnerability and stupidity. While people sleep, their property can be stolen.
The cup is made using the grisaille technique, where the tone is conveyed using shades of gray, creating the effect of volume and depth. This technique was invented by the French back in the 16th century and was originally used to decorate dishes.

The process of creating grisaille enamel involved applying a black base, onto which so-called Limoges white was applied in layers. The master varied the thickness of the light layers to achieve the desired dark shades. This made it possible to create the illusion of sculptural volume on a flat surface. The limited palette of white and various shades of black and gray made this technique unique and recognizable.
The art of monochromatic images has been known since antiquity. It developed in the Middle Ages, during the Gothic and Northern Renaissance periods, for example, during the creation of polyptychs - multi-leaf painted altars.

The outer doors of such altars were painted monochrome, usually creating the illusion of stone statues in niches. In this way, the closed altar visually interacted with the sculptural decoration of the temple interior. Grisaille painting was used by masters of Italian majolica, as well as French masters of Limoges enamels.
Grisaille paintings imitating relief were associated with ancient sculpture, which was organic in the space of the exterior and interior of neoclassical architecture.

The cup with monkeys from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is not only of artistic value, but also of cultural value. It reflects the aesthetic and philosophical ideas of its time, and also demonstrates the high level of technical and artistic skill of medieval masters.

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