The Virgin and Child with the Monkey, c. 1498
engraving on laid paper
19.2 x 12.4 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 2067)
The classical features of the Virgin seem intentionally juxtaposed with the prominent Germanic river house in the background to suggest the compatibility of Italian Renaissance style with Northern traditions. Convincing volumes and surfaces are conveyed through innovative handling of the engraver’s burin. Different systems of line are developed for each form: straight ripples for the reflective water surface, short curves for the bark of the bench post, and a flowing, sinewy line for the plants. The convex and concave parts of the drapery are rendered using parallel curves perfectly “in gear” with one another. The monkey, a symbol of lewdness, greed, and gluttony, remains chained (a reference to the prison of bodily pleasures), while the bird representing the soul is a voluntary captive of the Saviour.