A Frog Sitting on Coins and Holding a Sphere: Allegory of Avarice

Object Details

Title:

A Frog Sitting on Coins and Holding a Sphere: Allegory of Avarice

Artist/Maker(s):

Jacques de Gheyn II (Dutch, 1565 - 1629)

Culture:

Dutch

Date:

about 1609

Medium:

Pen and brown ink

Dimensions:

18 x 13 cm (7 1/16 x 5 1/8 in.)

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At first glance, this drawing of a frog appears to be a closely observed study of the natural world. Jacques de Gheyn II meticulously recorded the amphibian's long hind legs and loose skin. But on closer inspection the frog was clearly imbued with human characteristics. Its webbed feet were transformed into claw-like hands and the exaggerated hump on its back evokes a grotesque old man. With its raised head and prominent eye, the frog even appears to hold an impassive, almost haughty expression. De Gheyn pushed the boundaries of the natural world further: the frog sits atop a pile of coins and with its left "hand" grasps a sphere about the same size as its twisted trunk.

Somewhere between a realistic rendering of nature and an imaginative fantasy, the frog is an allegory of avarice. The creature does not merely rest on the coins but reaches greedily and uncouthly between its legs to grasp at them. The large sphere may symbolize the earth and the frog all the world's greed. Appropriate to the sin of avarice, the humanized frog is itself a monstrous perversion of the natural world.

Fascinated by nature, De Gheyn created a large number of allegorical and anatomical drawings of amphibians, mice and rats, horses and donkeys, and insects. This small study was probably part of a much larger sheet covered with other fantastical images. Collectors considered such sheets marvels of virtuosity and imaginative power.

Exhibitions
Paper Art: Finished Drawings in Holland 1590-1800 (September 6 to November 20, 2005)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), September 6 to November 20, 2005, (Cat.)
A Light Touch: Exploring Humor in Drawing (September 23 to December 7, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), September 23 to December 7, 2008, (Cat.)
Bibliography

Alliance Enchères, Alençon advertisement. Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot (February 21, 2003), unpaginated, ill.

"Coup de coeur: Jacques de Gheyn II métamorphose l'avarice en grenouille..." La Gazette Drouot (March 21, 2003), p. 11, ill.

"Alençon: une grenouille pour le Getty." Ouest-France (March 22-23, 2003), unpaginated, ill.