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date: 21 September 2019


  • Monique Riccardi-Cubitt


Term derived from the French singe (‘monkey’), denoting a type of European ornament in which monkeys dressed in human clothing mimic such activities as drinking, hunting, dancing and playing musical instruments, often in a setting of scrolling foliage or strapwork. Although monkeys had been used ornamentally since the Middle Ages to parody the baser activities of human beings, the fashion for more elegant singerie first developed in the late 17th century in the work of Jean Berain I, appointed Dessinateur de la Chambre et du Cabinet du Roi by Louis XIV in 1674. His earliest designs, in 1659, had been for gun-stocks, a trade that would have brought him into contact with the arabesque or Moresque decoration used in damascened work. Bérain’s singeries imbued Renaissance grotesque ornament with a new grace and whimsy: birds, insects and fantastic figures mingled with monkeys and exotic chinoiserie, rigorously framed by flat bandwork reminiscent of the attenuated strapwork of the Fontainebleau school and the abstract geometry of Islamic design. The ...

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