All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Noa Turel

Advisory Committee Members

Heather McPherson

Tanja L Jones

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2015

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The “Monkey Cup” in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) exhibits a unique rendition of the monkeys robbing the sleeping peddler theme. Generally believed to have been created in the second quarter of the fifteenth century in Burgundian territories, the exact origin of the beaker is not known. Based on visual evidence and the socio-historical context, I propose that the “Monkey Cup” was created in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, and the attribution should be broadened to the greater circle of the Valois courts. In this thesis, I offer a new contextualized reading of the “Monkey Cup” iconography as primarily a mockery of social climbing. Identifying intriguing motifs, from the peddler’s garish dress to carefully constructed analogies between him and the monkeys, I argue that the artist presents the peddler as a representative of the ambitious social climbers. In this way, the “Monkey Cup” can be read as a specimen of a now little known iconography of social derision, reflecting the tensions between the second and third estate in fifteenth-century Europe. The analysis of the rich afterlife of the “Monkey Cup” shows how the beaker embodies major themes of the Renaissance. The first part of the analysis of the Nachleben is focused on the beaker’s Medici provenance, which shows the fluidity of the concept of nobility and the Medici’s self-fashioning as a virtuous princely dynasty. The second part focuses on the sixteenth-century uniface medal inserted at the bottom of the “Monkey Cup.” I argue that it shows how the notion of mimesis, once used by the “Monkey Cup” artist to deride the peddler’s social climbing, was later incorporated by the medalist to glorify the noble and liberal status of art and artist. As such, the “Monkey Cup” is a demonstration of the rising status of the third estate in general and visual artists in particular, a microcosm of the social and cultural history of the Renaissance.

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