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A Frog Sitting on Coins and Holding a Sphere: Allegory of Avarice
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Jacques de Gheyn II
Dutch, Netherlands, about 1609
Pen and brown ink
7 1/16 x 5 1/8 in.
2003.23

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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.