The Singerie: Monkeys acting as Humans in Art

Singerie — from the French for "Monkey Trick" — is a genre of art in which monkeys are depicted apeing human behaviour. Although the practise can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt, it wasn't until the 16th century that the idea really took off and emerged as a distinct genre. Some of its most famous champions include the Flemish engraver Pieter van der Borcht (whose 1575 series of singerie prints were widely disseminated), Jan Brueghel the Elder, and the the two Teniers brothers, David Teniers the Younger and his younger brother Abraham Teniers. Into the 18th century the genre saw great popularity in France, particularly in the guise of the “singe peintre” (monkey painter), which offered up a perfect parody of the art world’s pomposity. With monkeys, along with apes, being our closest cognates in the animal world, they proved the perfect medium for the satirising of society, which so often thinks itself “above” the animal kingdom. Singeries have proved popular all the way into the 21st century, notably in the fantastic work of the American artist Walton Ford.

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