Considered protective deities in the Shinto religion, monkeys were first depicted in Japanese narrative scroll paintings during the 12th and 13th centuries. Monkeys, which are found throughout the mountainous and wooded areas of Japan, became a favorite subject of many later Japanese artists, including Rosetsu. In this painting the monkeys display human qualities, especially curiosity. One monkey stares directly out of the painting toward the viewer; the other contemplates something in the distance.
(Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art).