Sculptors hid the rabbit after being rushed and forbidden to sign their statue. But similar jokes played by some of the greatest artists who ever lived were vicious in comparison.
THE RABBIT IN THE EAR OF THE NELSON MANDELA STATUE AT THE UNION BUILDINGS, PRETORIA. PHOTOGRAPH: HERMAN STEYN/RSG
Never piss off an artist - you may find yourself ridiculed for all eternity by a hidden message in one of their works. Under pressure from South African authorities to finish a statue ofquickly, and forbidden to sign it, . They admit it was a pointed joke - the Afrikaans word for rabbit means haste.
Maybe they are alluding to similar jokes played by some of the greatest artists who ever lived. Michelangelo is the godfather of artistic insults. His statue ofdiscreetly rests its arm on a money box: this easily ignored detail, half concealed by a monster mask that is itself troubling, is Michelangelo's dig at the obscene wealth of the Medici family.
THE MONEY BOX IN MICHELANGELO'S STATUE OF LORENZO DE' MEDICI AT SAN LORENZO IN FLORENCE IS A DIG AT THE WEALTH OF THE MEDICI FAMILY. PHOTOGRAPH: ALAMY
He also claimed that the figure of Night in the same tomb complex expresses his desire to sleep until the fall of Medici tyranny. With similar scorn he portrayed a Vatican official who criticised him as a snake-tailed demon in his fresco . More enigmatically, his statue, created for the Tomb of Pope Julius II, has an ape hidden behind it. Apes symbolise sin. Is Michelangelo confessing to the sexual nature of this swooning, ecstatic male nude? Or hinting that Pope Julius was a man of base passions?
Michelangelo's contemporary Titian also knew how to slip a silent stiletto between the shoulderblades of an unsuspecting victim. The greed of art dealer Jacopo Strada was notorious. Titian makes it visible for all time in - yet in ways the client could not pin down. He holds a nude statue just a little too tightly; there are too many coins on view. Nothing overt, but enough to tell us what a scumbag he was in Titian's eyes.
Sometimes, the most vicious truth is hidden in plain sight. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted artists to show him as an emperor in quasi-royal regalia. He certainly could not complain about . After all, it shows him as he wished to be seen, as a world commander on the imperial throne, swaddled in pomp and finery. Ingres does not need to hide any symbols. Instead he uses a glassy, waxen style, deprived of warmth, to convey the icy inhumanity of power. It is a monstrous painting.
A rabbit? That's getting off lightly.
Read this and other great art-icles at source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2014/jan/21/rabbit-ear-nelson-mandela-sculptors-statue-artists
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