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We’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These short recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Getty drawings curator Stephanie Schrader considers the upside-down world of An Enchanted Cellar with Animals, made by Cornelis Saftleven around 1655 to 1670. To learn more about this artwork, visit:  https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/160/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every Tuesday.

Drawing of a vaulted cellar filled with mischievous animals like bats, rats, monkeys, owls, and chickens.

An Enchanted Cellar with Animals, about 1655–1670, Cornelis Saftleven. Black and red chalk, brush with gray and brown wash, and watercolor, 10 1/8 × 12 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 86.GG.17. Digital image courtesy of Getty Open Content

Listen to the full series of short reflections here.

Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings on Tuesdays over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
STEPHANIE SCHRADER: Hi my name is Stephanie Schrader and I’m curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. I’m recording this podcast from a closet, during my 8th or 9th week from working at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And like many people with children who are working from home, I’m hiding in here to avoid my daughter as she takes her online chemistry class in the other room.
Normally, I look after the Dutch and Flemish drawings in our collection, and especially now, I’m feel very fortunate that I can escape the world of 17th century Dutch art and culture. 17th-century Dutch artists excelled at making images that poke fun at human foolishness. And there’s one drawing in our collection that I keep coming back to, which is speaking to me much more vividly than it did before. It is a drawing by Cornelius Saftleven, who is known for his animal satires and his images of hell.
This particular drawing shows a cellar full of animals doing all different human-like activities. It is an enchanting scene with lots of color that accentuates the animals’ curious behavior. There are chickens standing on wooden fences as baked bread cools above them and rats warming their feet by the fire and a chained monkey who is looking out, sort of jeering at the viewer as overturned kitchen utensils are scattered on the floor in front of hims. And overhead there’s a swirl of bats, who suddenly feel more menacing as I think about the likely origins of COVID-19. The animals have taken over here in this vaulted cellar.
But one aspect of this drawing that really stands out to me now is a monkey who’s pretending to be a conductor and trying to wrangle a group of owls into singing from a book that has been propped open on the floor. These distracted owls are not interested in learning how to sing and certainly not interested in learning from this very eager and enthusiastic monkey. As I repeatedly remind my daughter to stay focused on her studies and to get off her phone, I really relate to this foolish monkey trying to encourage these owls to sing.
In my moments of frustration, though, I am grateful for this drawing. Saftleven reminds us to laugh at the absurd, and God knows there’s enough absurd out there. He urges us to be critical consumers of images, to question our actions, and to remain attentive to the world we live in, especially now, when it’s upside down.
CUNO: To view the drawing An Enchanted Cellar with Animals, made by Cornelis Saftleven around 1655 to 1670, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about righ...

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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