The fable is famous and I always knew it to be French – the Monkey and the Cat – “the dupe (or use) of another to get one’s own way”. The history of the fable is well researched and presented on the Wikipedia site, here. Further reading confirmed my belief that this snuff box is even earlier, as the first know version has a dog being duped by the monkey, read on below.
“However, the earliest surviving texts relating the story date from the mid-16th century and some of these have a puppy in place of a cat as the monkey’s victim. Johannes Sambucus reports it as happening recently in the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom in his Emblemata (1564). The Latin poem there continues, ‘A small monkey gave us an example noteworthy and amusing for its cunning. For, when he saw the chestnuts buried in the hearth, he began to brush the ash aside but, afraid of the burning coals, he suddenly seized the foot of a sleeping puppy and stole it out.’ The same story involving a sleeping dog appeared in other emblem books, including the Choice of Emblemes by the English poet Geoffrey Whitney (1586)”.
The snuff box is in sculpted bronze with a lead filled back and a very high, repoussé relief showing a very early version of an iron pot, the dog with retrieved chestnuts and the monkey with his hand over his face, hiding his glee – that the ruse has worked. The title ribbon is engraved ‘RATON ET BERTRAN–’ The hinged base is also in patterned relief but in brass. I believe this is so obviously Dutch in origin and easily 16th century. I found it in Launceston in the stock of a charming young dealer: Miles Davis-Kielar. The studio has done the straightening and slight repairs – the lid closes perfect now. We have handled with cotton gloves, brushed the surface and have maintained most of the aged patina. Height of the lid relief is 8mm. W 90mm x D 65mm x H 24mm. Urban–Archaeology Collection.