Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold:
Sculpture "Monkey with Skull" (1892-93), bonded bronze version
Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold:
Sculpture "Monkey with Skull" (1892-93), bonded bronze version

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bonded bronze | size 8 x 13.5 x 8 cm (w/h/d) | weight approx. 0.7 kg

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Sculpture "Monkey with Skull" (1892-93), bonded bronze version
Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold: Sculpture "Monkey with Skull" (1...

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Sculpture "Monkey with Skull" (1892-93), bonded bronze version

The philosopher and sculptor Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold (1853-1900) cast the debate about Charles Darwin's work in an almost iconographic form with his sculpture "Monkey with Skull". His contemporaries already attested that his diverse allusions were a "cabinet piece of superior humour" - after all, not only Shakespeare's "To be or not to be", but also Rodin's "Thinker" and circulating Darwin caricatures shine through.

However, Rheinhold's monkey is far more than humour in cast bronze from our ancestor's time. After all, the monkey wielding a tool for measuring skulls is not only sitting on Darwin's groundbreaking work but also the Bible. And on closer inspection, the "Inscriptio", the inscription, turns out to be the key to the allegory: "Eritis sicut deus", which translates to "You will be like God". With these words, the devil lures Adam and Eve to the tree of knowledge, which, as we know, leads to their expulsion from paradise. Thus, in the end, the sculptor Rheinhold proves himself to be a philosopher again: The "Monkey with a Skull" tells us that those who seek knowledge have to reckon with consequences. This is one of, if not "the" basic experiences of the 20th century, from the atomic bomb to genetic engineering.

Polymer cast with bronzed surface. Size 8 x 13,5 x 8 cm (w/h/d). Weight approx. 0.7 kg.

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About Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold


They have their fates – not only the books but also the works of art and artists. The fate of the "Ape with Skull" and its creator Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold couldn’t be more different. Immediately after Rheinhold presented the sculpture at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1893 as his final project for his studies at the Berlin Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Berlin sculpture foundry Gladenbeck & Sohn offered to produce licensed casts. These went not only to private collectors but also to many international scientific institutions. They can still be admired today: In the Royal College of Surgeons in London, in the Medico-Chirurgical Society in Aberdeen, in the Boston Medical Library and the Department of Zoology at the University of Edinburgh. The most famous location is probably a Russian specimen: It adorned (and still adorns) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's desk.

While the fame and notoriety of the sculpture grew unceasingly, Rheinhold was almost forgotten after his early death. It was only following an exhibition in Aberdeen in 1989 that serious biographical research began. Most of what has been gathered about Rheinhold since then has only been published in the last 15 years.

Rheinhold was not only a sculptor but also studied philosophy. Moreover, he was a co-founder of a "German Society for Ethical Culture". Perhaps this explains the dazzling richness of meaning of his "Ape". It not only represents a thoroughly humorous commentary on the Darwinism debate but at the same time appeals to the ethical responsibility of all science with the Genesis quote "Eritis sicut deus" ("You will be as God").