We went to the Getty today and saw this exhibit of works by Brueghal and Rubens. One of the strange things we noticed was how many guinea pigs there are in these paintings. Of the seven paintings featured on the Getty website, four of them (Return from War, Garden of Eden, Flora and Zephyr, and Madonna and Child) contain guinea pigs. (Madonna and Child also contains a jackelope, but that’s a whole 'nother can of worms.) That percentage held for the exhibit as a whole. Once you started noticing them, those damn guinea pigs were everywhere!
They were always painted in pairs. They were always in the foreground. They were always eating something … usually peas, but sometimes lettuce.
My question is: What’s the deal with the guinea pigs? Is there some symbolic significance to the guinea pig in 17th Century Flemish art?