Brilliantly coloured and bursting with an exuberant sense of joie-de-vivre, Adolescents, aigle et âne reveals Pablo Picasso’s extraordinary skills as a draughtsman. In March 1967 Picasso executed several drawings featuring animals such as an eagle, a donkey and a horse, alongside human figures, which are often depicted in the nude. The present work derives its imagery from ancient and Biblical sources: the image of a young man on a donkey is usually associated with the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, combining symbols of humbleness and victory. The laurel wreath on his head recalls the iconography associated with ancient Rome, signifying the Imperial mark of the Roman Emperors and the sign of victory for military commanders. The eagle held by the boy on the left is also connected with Roman symbolism, representing the insignia of the ancient Roman legion and a universal symbol of power.
In choosing this iconography, Picasso anchors himself in a long tradition of depicting ancient and Christian motifs, which dominated Western art from antiquity through Renaissance and Old Master painters. As is typical of Picasso's rebellious character and his sense of wit, he does not simply illustrate these themes; rather, he interprets them from a subversive or a comical angle. In the present work, he depicts the two male figures as 'adolescents', whilst the animals are rendered in a manner that evokes a children's play rather than a serious historical or religious theme. This remarkable, colourful work therefore combines Picasso's unique humour with the assured draughtsmanship that characterised his œuvre.
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