Beaker with Apes

Anonymous, ca. 1425 — 1450
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This special beaker was probably made in the Southern Netherlands at the order of the Burgundian court. The grisaille painting is a technical masterpiece for the early fifteenth century. It was no longer necessary to use wires (cloisonné) or recesses (champlevé) on the metal base to separate the colors. The enamel could be applied freely to the surface, which made small, detailed paintings possible. Only a few objects with such grisaille paintings have survived. This beaker is one of the finest examples of early enamel painting.

The exterior is richly decorated with winding, leafy vines that invite you to look around the whole cup. At the bottom, the scene with the peddler is most striking. While in a deep sleep, he is robbed of everything he has with him by apes. They dance and swing merrily among the leafy vines with their newly acquired goods. They play musical instruments, wear jewelry, and admire themselves in the mirror. The inside of the beaker is decorated with a satirical hunting scene enacted by two apes, executed too in enamel.

Lucinda Timmermans, Curator, Nederlands Zilvermuseum, Schoonhoven

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