Category Archives: Uncategorized

Primates in Peru

Monkeys are represented in the arts of the ancient peoples of the south coast of Peru (the Ica region) – notably, the Paracas (c. 800-100 BCE) and the Nasca (c. 100 BCE-800 CE).  Two objects found in the Metropolitan Museum collection in New York are especially note-worthy.  A double-spouted, ceramic bottle with a projecting relief figure of a monkey from the Nasca Culture dates from c. first century BCE to first century CE (about 6 inches high, accession no. 63.232.46, on display in gallery 357).  Human features, plant motifs and forehead ornaments suggest the container is an example of the “Mythical Monkey” theme, a subject that often appears on late Paracas and early Nasca textiles.  A ceramic drum with figures of monkeys is common to the Paracas Culture, and dates from around the 4th to the 2nd century BCE (16 inches high, accession no. 64.228.188, on display in gallery 684).  Music was important to most celebrations in ancient Peru – songs related the history and the mythology of the people.


See also:      (“Music in the Ancient Andes”)

Maritime Communities of the Ancient Andes, D. H. Sandweiss (author, ed.) and G. Prieto ed.), 2020.

Baby Chimp Rescue

The “Hundred Acre Wood”, of Pooh Bear fame, is the name of the planned, 100-acre home for orphaned chimpanzees in Liberia, on the West African coast.  The Liberian Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection, or LCRP, was founded in 2010 by Jenny and husband/ vet Jimmy Desmond, with the help of their rescue dog Princess who has been nanny to many of the babies.  The present sanctuary – now badly overcrowded – will eventually move to its new site in the Marshall Wetlands, an area of unique biodiversity.  Trained and experienced caregivers look after over 40 orphans (many under five years old), traumatised after losing their mothers as a result of the illegal bushmeat and pet trades.  The LCRP works with Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority and numerous world, wildlife conservation organizations to protect the chimps and the land, and to raise public awareness to threats to the chimpanzee population – the second largest population of western chimpanzees.

To learn more about this important sanctuary and the chimps they have rescued and rehabilitated, see their website:


Lemurs in Art

Wildlife artist Deborah Ross has created many watercolors of primates – especially lemurs – and has exhibited her work in the U. S., South America, Africa and Madagascar.  She taught drawing and painting to children in remote African villages, collaborated on a book on baboons with Dr. S. Strum, and worked with primatologist Dr. Alison Jolly on a series of books focusing on lemurs.  Her paintings include depictions of the lemurs of Kirindy-Mitea National Park on Madagascar’s southwest coast – a threatened ecosystem that is home to eight species of lemurs, including the world’s smallest primate, the mouse lemur.  Ross has exhibited with other artists in connection with the Lemur Conservation Foundation – a 130 acre center for lemur studies in Myakka City, Florida.


See also:

Wildlife of Madagascar, K. Behrens and K. Barnes, 2016.

Dwarf and Mouse Lemurs of Madagascar, E. Zimmermann, 2016.

The Mask of the Monkey

Masks play an important role in ritual in many parts of Africa – mask-making is a valued art, and artists are held in high esteem.   The art has been passed down from father to son for many generations.  Used in ceremonial dances for weddings, funerals and initiation rites, the subjects portrayed by masks are symbolic and many invoke protection for an individual or a group.  As a connection with the spirit world, the mask-wearer is thought to “become” the spirit of the image portrayed and thus have the ability to communicate with spirits, many of which are animals.  Many masks depict monkeys – heads or full-figures.  Most are made of wood, jute or other fiber, and often painted.  Monkey masks have been part of rituals for peoples such as the Baule of Ivory Coast, West Africa, the Hemba Peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Bamana and Dogon of Mali, West Africa.  Museums worldwide exhibit masks depicting monkeys.  Two examples from the Metropolitan Museum in New York are noteworthy.  One is a wooden, full-figure by the Dogon, dated 19th to 20th century, 33 inches high and displayed in Gallery 350 (on-line see accession number 1978.412.364).  The other is a ,head of a monkey by the Hemba, dated also to 19th to 20th century, made of wood and pigment, about 8 inches high, but not displayed (accession number 1988.412).


See also:  Congo Masks: Masterpieces from Central Africa, M. L. Felix, 2018.

                  African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Geneva, I. Hahner-Herzog, 2007.

The Use of Masks in Igbo Theatre in Nigeria, V. Ukaegbu, 2008.

Tiny Monkey Treasures: from accessories to prized art objects

Japanese netsuke – miniature sculptures – date from about the 17th century.  These small toggles secured containers – pouches or boxes (inro)  – to the sash (obi) of a robe or kimono.  The containers might carry items such as tobacco or medicine.  Carvings of animals reflected myths and indigenous creatures, primates among the most popular.  Most netsuke measure about 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and most were fashioned from wood, ivory, or, less common, various metals.

Highly-prized by collectors, netsuke are also found in museums world-wide, including the Inro Museum, Takayama, Japan, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Los Angeles County Museum in California, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

A group of intertwined monkeys decorate a wooden, oval-shaped netsuke in the British Museum collection (museum no. 1945, 1017.666).  In its East Asian Room (Level 5), the National Museum of Scotland exhibits an ivory netsuke depicting a seated monkey eating fruit and holding a basket of fruit on its head.  A wooden carving of a seated monkey catching fleas – dating from the 18th or 19th century – is part of the Metropolitan Museum collection (accession no. 91.1.1018).


See also:  Japanese Netsuke, Julia Hutt, V & A Museum, 2003.

The Raymond and Francis Bushell Collection of Netsuke, V. G. Atchley and Hollis Goodall, et. al., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2003.

Primates by Nash

A noted wildlife artist specialising in primates, Essex-born Stephen D. Nash received degrees in graphic design/natural history illustration from the Royal College of Art, London.  Nash worked for Conservation International, and has illustrated numerous books, including:  Primates of West AfricaLemurs of Madagascar, and Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Primates volume.  He has won numerous awards and has been commemorated through the use of his name for the Brazilian titi monkey – Callicebus stephennashi.  Nash is currently based at Stony Brook University, Long Island, New York, as visiting research associate professor.  (See also previous blog.)


For examples of Nash’s work, see titles mentioned.   His illustrations have been used to identify the various primates.


A Seminal Collection of Primates in Art

An online collection of primate images has been sourced from a wide variety of historical art from numerous countries.  One can browse examples from antiquity to the 21st century.  Instrumental in compiling this amazing collection was Stephen D. Nash, scientific illustrator and adjunct, associate professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.  Primates are represented in thousands of prints, paintings, ceramics, mosaics, and sculpture.  Many entries are anatomical illustrations of primates – some used to identify various monkeys.  Some are illustrations from fables and other stories.  A few of the historical works that depict primates include:  “Madonna and Saints”  (1520), a Renaissance painting by Ludovico Mazzolino, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, “Cimiau and Efigenia” (1617), a painting from “The Seige of Lanka” illustrated manuscript series of the epic poem “The Ramayana”, attributed to the artist Manaku, (c. 1725), Guler, India, “Monkey and Crab” (1824), painting by Japanese artist Keisai Eisen, “Monkey and Cat” illustration (1867), by Gustave Dore, “Gorilla and Woman” (1887), by sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet, and “Monkey and Baby” (1952), a sculpture by Pablo Picasso.

More on artist Stephen D. Nash in a future blog.


See:  University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, The Nash Collection of Primates in Art.

Monkey Power

Amulets are among the most prolific artifacts found at ancient archaeological sites – often in burials.  These were personal ornaments – meant to be worn or carried.  Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts document the belief that amulets possessed  supernatural power, mainly to protect against evil and misfortune.  Most amulets were shaped like various animals, plants, celestial bodies and inanimate objects, but could also be natural objects such as shells, or even plant material.  Mediums varied, and included stone, ivory, alabaster, gold, silver, bone, shell and glass, as well as semi-precious stones.  Most popular was “faience”, or more correctly, glazed composition, which allowed the modelling or moulding of any shape.

Animal amulets found in Mesopotamia and Egypt include examples of primates, and many date from earliest Antiquity.  Baboons, and in Egypt, vervet monkeys, are shown standing or crouching – most often the latter pose.  Such amulets are found in numerous museums.  Four examples are especially notable.  A very early charm in the Liverpool World Museum, UK, represents a squatting baboon made of glazed composition, from modern Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, dating from c. 3000 – 2686 BCE.  From the same museum, an unusual amulet depicts a seated ape eating fruit.  Made from carved limestone, this object comes from Amarna, south of Cairo, and dates from c. 1352 – 1336 BCE.  A third example is found in the University of Pennsylvania Archaeological Museum in Philadelphia, US.  Representing a squatting monkey, the object is made of shell and was found in a suburb of ancient Ur, a 3rd millennium Sumerian city, modern southern Iraq.  The object – a pendant – has a hole to accommodate a chain or cord.  Finally, a monkey amulet from Egypt, carved from amethyst, and dating from c. 1985 – 1795 BCE, is found in the Brighton Museum collection, Brighton, England.  These objects can be seen on the websites of the museums mentioned – many more are found in other museums, worldwide.


See also:  Amulets, Flinders Petrie, Read Books, Ltd., 2011.

UCL Collection, London.

A Baboon on an Ancient “Clock”?

The water clock, or clepsydra (Greek for “to steal water”, or “water thief”), was an ancient device that measured the passage of time – the precursor of the hourglass (sand clock) and modern time-pieces.  Usually a stone vessel with sloping sides, a small hole at the bottom allowed water to drip out at a rate that could be measured by small circles or grooves on the inside.  The earliest example found so far, dating to c. 1382 BCE, was discovered by French Egyptologist Georges Legrain in 1904, at the excavated Temple of Amun-Ra, at Karnak (ancient Thebes), Upper Egypt.  (The artifact is in the Cairo Egyptian Museum.)  Large fragments of a few other examples can be found in the British Museum and the Petrie Museum (UCL), London.  Two small, model, water clocks are found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Both objects have a figure of a baboon shown squatting (usual pose) at the front.  An animal manifestation of the Egyptian god Thoth – a deity linked to the sun and the moon, to the invention of writing, to science and astronomy – the sacred baboon shared the god’s attributes, and Thoth was often represented as a dog-faced baboon (Papio hamadryas).  The Met models were probably objects used in the worship of Thoth.  An especially intriguing example of a baboon as part of a clepsydra is in the Oriental Institute/University of Chicago collection.  A figure of a squatting baboon projects from one side of the artifact.  Finely crafted, the tiny primate is the focal point of the piece.  Made of limestone, the work has been dated to c. 284-246 BCE, and was found at Memphis, south of Cairo.



Oriental Institute/University of Chicago: Clepsydra on display – Egyptian Gallery, Registration number E16875.!?9=clepsydra

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Model Clepsydra on display – Gallery 134, Accession number 17.194.2341/dated c. 664=30 BCE.

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Model Clepsydra on display – Gallery 134, Accession number 86.1.93/dated c. 4th C. BCE.

Ancient Egyptian Science, A Source Book, vol. 2, M. Clagett, 1995.

Amulets, C. Andrews, London: British Museum Press, 1994.




Pre-Columbian Artifact II

Monkeys are prevalent images in Mesoamerican art.  Many examples are represented in a realistic style.  The lesser-known Mezcala/Balsas culture of south-west Mexico created primate figures in a very different – rather abstract – style.  Unfortunately, because few archaeological excavations have been undertaken in the area, little is known of this culture and its unique sculptures.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a small, stone/serpentine monkey figure – approximately 3 inches high – from the Balsas River region of Guerrero State, which dates from between the 1st and the 8th c. CE ( Accession no. 1979.206.1208).  Seated, with long tail upraised and bent over, the primate seems a fine example of Mezcala sculpture.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also has a small stone monkey attributed to Mezcala, dated to c. 500 BCE – 1000 CE.   The Mezcala style ( possibly developed c. 700 BCE) may have been strongly influenced by the enigmatic (well-documented) Olmec civilization that flourished in the (modern) states of Veracruz and Tabasco (c. 1200 – 400 BCE), and also known for their representations of animal gods.  A collection of Mezcala art is found in the Regional Museum of Guerrero Mexico, as well as in a number of museums world-wide.


See also:!?q=Mezcala%20monkey

Mexico’s Indigenous Past, A. Lopez Austin and L. L. Lujan, University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Mexico, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs, M. D. Coe and R. Koontz, Thames & Hudson, 2002.