Monkey Orchestra

Monkey Orchestra

Unsurpassed Popularity

The Monkey Orchestra, that zaniest of MEISSEN® Baroque classics, belongs to the genre of what were then very popular singeries – not because of the music but because they are played by monkeys. The term is derived from singe, the French word for monkey. This creature was so en vogue in the mid-18th century as a vehicle for parodying human follies that entire rooms were filled with singeries. They adorned walls and ceilings, furniture fabrics and carpets in much the way chinoiseries did. The work of animal painter Christophe Huet (1700-1759) in the palace at Chantilly to the north of Paris made him the most famous practitioner of this type of decorative art.

 

His little monkeys are caricatures of the palace residents. They act just like their human counterparts and their guests do: they sing, play a variety of instruments, dance, hunt or have fun skating on a frozen lake. Drawings of these wacky musicians duly found their way to Meissen and quite clearly served the artist Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) as source material for his ensemble in porcelain: little monkeys painted in the Rococo style and making music with great abandon under the leadership of an eagerly gesticulating conductor.

The imposing bandleader gives the signal: a trumpeter, French-horn player, bagpiper, bassoonist, flautist and clarinettist puff out their cheeks and purse their lips; a bass player and guitarist commence plucking strings; a pianist and triangle player provide backing for the performance, vying with the rhythms of a drummer and a kettledrummer. Completing the high-power orchestra are a hurdy-gurdy player and harpist, both female, and four songstresses. Every single figurine in the Monkey Orchestra has been consummately fitted together by hand and painted with a great deal of nuancing and detail. Each bears witness to Kaendler’s supreme skill and artistry – and also to the originality and uniqueness of Meissen Porcelain®. 

Originally inspired by French graphic sources, the Monkey Orchestra very soon found its way back to Paris: Madame de Pompadour, consort of King Louis Quinze, bought one of the first Monkey Orchestras of all in as early as December 1753.