A Rare c.1900 Cased Taxidermy Study of a Rhesus Macaque Monkey

Origin: English
Period: Late Victorian/Edwardian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1895-1915
The Case:
Depth: 6 inches
Width: 15 inches
Height: 17.5 inches

The Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta) specimen housed within a naturalistic setting of a mock cactus plant amongst reeded grasses with a sky blue painted background, the monkey depicted clenching a monkey nut in its grasp, the whole housed in a black painted and glazed display case surviving from the late Victorian to Edwardian period.

The overall composition is of a good quality though both the case and the specimen are a little tired. The glazing and case are all original though it has later black masking tape to its surrounds and some watermark staining to the back, as these cases so often do. The rest of the composition is relatively well preserved with no hair drop; he is a little dusty but fully in tact save to his tail end whereby the very last 2cms of the tail are ever so slightly detached from the rest but still in situ. This isn’t noticeable until very close inspection. There are a few markings to the case ‘etc 910’ in marker pen and ‘Botany 1a’ ‘L/M 8/8’to the bottom.

The mark mentioning botany would suggest that this example may well have been part of a large museums or institutions inventory at one time. The style of the case and the composition gives us an indication the piece may have been by Peter Spicer of Birmingham.

Described by Dario Maestripieri as being the sort of thing we think of when someone says "monkey", the macaque manages to flourish just about anywhere it finds itself, or wherever we put it. And it primarily does so by being nasty. "A rhesus macaque," writes Maestripieri, "can wake up one morning, feel a little drowsy, and find himself in danger of being killed by his best friends." A macaque is curious and confrontational; its first instinct on meeting a stranger is, in effect, "What you lookin' at?"

Rhesus macaques are despotic and nepotistic; their power-structures are matrilineal. The males hang around sullenly, get into fights, emigrate to other groups, get into more fights and lead lives of violence and aggression which, as Maestripieri explains, is because they want raw power. Power gets you everything. It's worth the price. The macaque, like us, is a Machiavellian creature.

Rhesus macaques, in short, are sods. But, rare, cased.