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Stepladder of Evolution in Picasso’s Acrobat’s Family with a Monkey

In Picasso’s “Acrobat’s Family with a Monkey”, the stepladder like orientation of characters demonstrates an evolutionary procession.

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At the top of the ladder sits the father, a high and mighty figure, like that of King Arthur. He towers above his family as if a king on a throne, looking down upon his royal subjects. He is the sole ruler and therefore must set himself apart from them. This is reflected in the position of his arms, which he keeps close to his body, like the independent child who refuses to hold his mother’s hand when crossing the street. Even his manner of dress holds a stately aura. The yellow hat upon his head is golden and pointy similar to that of a royal crown worn by the great rulers of the past. The fringes on his costume surround his neck like the golden mane of a fearsome lion, king of the jungle. The leotard, itself, is an almost fleshy tone like soft peaches in the summer. It reminds one of an acrobat in costume during his death-defying tightrope act, high above the audience. His shoes, however, are thin and black like a bat in the night, contrasting sharply with the rest of the colors of the painting. It were as if they are demanding the well-deserved attention they have earned in all the effort it had taken them to get to the top. Yet, he looks down at the child with great hope, as would a king to his newborn successor, who would follow in his footsteps, performing great deeds to society and loved by all his people. It is also a look of unconditional love that cannot dissipate even if the child were to accidentally burn their house down or fall on top of him, breaking a few ribs in the process.

On the next step is the mot…

…tates.

At the bottom of the rung, rests the monkey who is lower than all of the other characters in the painting both socially and evolutionarily. He is like the serfs on a feudal manner who are expected to do the bidding of their master and unable to leave. The monkey’s lack of clothing and ignorance thereof also contributes to his subordination, thereby making him less powerful than humans. The lack of clothing is similar to the condition of Adam and Eve before they ate the apple. Their eating the apple allowed them to realize their nakedness, thus elevating them to an unignorant state. His contentment towards this disposition further exemplifies the blissful nature of his ignorance.

Picasso’s spatial positioning deliberately portrays the position of each member of society and their respective roles in the hierarchy of social order and evolutionary theory.

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