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Krylov, La Fontaine, Aesop, Mining Museum

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

One would ask, what mystery may little cast-iron statuettes, known as 'Capuchin Foxes', hold?

The collection of figurines was designed by Austrian sculptor Friedrich Marcel Goldstein and cast in 1898 at the Kaslinsky Plant of Art Casting. Some 120 years have passed, yet the literary world is still struggling at solving this riddle. What did inspire the master and entrepreneur to craft world-famous statuettes?

The most popular explanation is that it was Jean de La Fontaine:

Rosy and ripe, and ready to box,

The grapes hang high o'er the hungry Fox. -

He pricks up his ears, and his eye he cocks.

Ripe and rosy, yet so high! -

He gazes at them with a greedy eye,

And knows he must eat and drink - or die.

When the jump proves to be beyond his power -

"Pooh!" says the Fox. "Let the pigs devour

Fruit of that sort. Those grapes are sour!"

Others say it was Ivan Krylov instead:

The hungry godfather Fox climbed into the garden;

In it, the grapes brushed.

The gossip's eyes and teeth flared up;

And brushes are juicy, like yachons, burn;

The only trouble is that they hang high:

Otkol and no matter how she comes to them,

Even though the eye sees

Yes, the tooth is numb.

Having broken through an hour in vain,

She went and said with annoyance:

"Well!

He looks good,

Yes, green - no ripe berries:

You will set your teeth on edge immediately. "

Anyway, both Krylov and La Fontaine have undoubtedly borrowed the plot from Aesop:

A Fox one day spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox's mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.

The bunch hung from a high branch, and the Fox had to jump for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain.

Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.

"What a fool I am," he said. "Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth gaping for."

And off he walked very, very scornfully.

Order of Friars Minor Capuchin is an order of poor monks approved in 1528. The Order's name comes from the hood ('capuche') worn by members of that Order. In that particular region of Italy where the Order originally arose was used a word 'capuccio'. As it turns out, in addition to masters of art casting, the Capuchins also influenced baristas, to whom we are now obliged for drinking cappuccino - a coffee drink prepared with steamed milk foam.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with figurines. Their value is in reminding a person who owns them of neverending hypocrisy - not the greatest evil of humanity but hardly an attractive quality. Aesop wrote about this in 600 BCE, and still, the topic is relevant as it was back in the day. Bidders' interest for statuettes, which are - just as parables - victims of plagiarism, exceeds their availability by far.