Monkeys and Cats at a Masked Ball


This remarkable oil painting of ‘Monkeys and cats at a masked ball’ was produced by an unknown Flemish master in 1632. The painting enacts a kind of double disguise. In the first place, animals in costume are posing as human beings, where we might expect humans with animal masks. In the second place, their disguises create confusion between two animal species traditionally seen as contrasting. The arrogant monkeys are masquerading as humans, but they apparently fail to notice the cats mingling amongst them.[1] This could be intended as a satirical comment on human pretence and self-importance.

Masked dances in Shakespeare

In Much Ado About Nothing (Act 2, Scene 1) and Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 5), Shakespeare makes dramatic use of masked dances. These serve to highlight the tensions between deception and self-deception, trust and mistrust, identity and performance.

[1] See Stefano Zuffi, The Cat in Art (New York: Abrams, 2007).

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Monkeys and Cats at a Masked Ball
1632, Netherlands
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Monkeys and Cats at a Masked Ball, 1632 (oil on panel) (see 204408), Flemish School, (17th century) / Private Collection / © Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York / Bridgeman Images

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