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grasshopper and the ant

The Grasshopper and the Ant (La cigale et la fourmi), 1875

oil on canvas

 

Taken from the classic parable, The Cicada and the Ant, by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95), Vibert has recast the familiar fable with a minstrel and a monk. In La Fontaine's original, the frivolous grasshopper wastes the summer chirping, while the industrious ant collects food. When winter approaches, the desperate grasshopper's plea for food is rebuffed by the sanctimonious ant. In Vibert's painting, a lone minstrel has accosted a group of monks, only one of whom stops to hear his pleas. When pressed for alms the monk, according to Vibert's own version of the story published in La Comédie en peinture, responds by asking the minstrel what he does in the summer. "I sing" is the answer. Since it is now winter, the monk, like the ant in the original, snidely advises the minstrel to dance.

Vibert's anti-clerical attitude is amply documented in his writings as well as in his many satiric pictures of cardinals and other clerics. In The Grasshopper and the Ant he has carefully contrasted the two men's appearances to illustrate more poignantly the material discrepancy between them, as well as to allegorise the monk's parsimony. The minstrel is scrawny and hunch-backed; he shivers because his thread-bare tights no longer keep out the cold. By contrast, the monk is well-fed and jolly, his rucksack overstocked with food and game. Turkey feathers protrude behind the monk's back in a rich display, clashing with the miserable, shredded peacock, the Christian symbol of the Resurrection; links the Minstrel to Christ, and reminds the viewer of another famous tale: that of the "Good Samaritan".

   

see also separate text with grasshopper tag

    

Taken from the classic parable, The Cicada and the Ant, by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95), Vibert has recast the familiar fable with a minstrel and a monk. In La Fontaine's original, the frivolous grasshopper wastes the summer chirping, while the industrious ant collects food. When winter approaches, the desperate grasshopper's plea for food is rebuffed by the sanctimonious ant. In Vibert's painting, a lone minstrel has accosted a group of monks, only one of whom stops to hear his pleas. When pressed for alms, the monk, according to Vibert's own version of the story published in La Comédie en peinture, responds by asking the minstrel what he does in the summer. "I sing," is the answer. Since it is now winter, the monk, like the ant in the original, snidely advises the minstrel to dance.

 

Vibert's anti-clerical attitude is amply documented in his writings as well as in his many satiric pictures of cardinals and other clerics.

 

In The Grasshopper and the Ant he has carefully contrasted the two men's appearances to illustrate more poignantly the material discrepancy between them, as well as to allegorize the monk's parsimony. The minstrel is scrawny and hunch-backed; he shivers because his thread-bare tights no longer keep out the cold. By contrast, the monk is well-fed and jolly, his rucksack overstocked with food and game. Turkey feathers protrude behind the monk's back in a rich display, clashing with the miserable, shredded peacock plume in the minstrel's cap. In the story's context, the choice of feathers is no coincidence: the turkey, the traditional bird of feasting, symbolizes the monk's frivolity, while the peacock, the Christian symbol of the Resurrection, links the minstrel to Christ, and reminds the viewer of another famous tale: that of the "Good Samaritan."

 

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Taken on March 7, 2010