Albrecht Dürer’s prints are characterized by nearly ethereal transitions from dark to light. From the fineness of the monkey’s wiry fur to the sumptuousness of the main figure’s clothing, Dürer achieved an astonishing amount of detail and depth and an array of textures in The Virgin and Child with a Monkey. Here, the Virgin Mary is seated in an expansive landscape divided by a wide river. The Christ Child is nestled on her lap, holding a bird tenderly in his hand. In her left hand is the Bible, and at her feet is a tethered monkey. His presence, however, is not merely for added visual interest. During the Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the monkey was a recognized symbol of the most basic of human instincts: lust, gluttony, and greed. The animal here, however, is docile and chained. This presentation suggests the power of the Virgin Mary’s virtue to tame humankind’s worst, and most sinful, qualities.
Label from Menagerie: Animals on View, March 11–June 4, 2017