Birds play an important role in Dutch art from the Golden Age and the period of the Enlightenment. They are a prominent feature of many paintings and drawings either visually or symbolically. Considering the attractiveness of the subject it is quite surprising that art historians have to date failed to pay attention to it in a wider context in the same way as they have with flowers. In this discussion a closer look is taken at the presentation of birds in various genres of Dutch 17th and 18th century paintings, with the representations by Melchior d’Hondecoeter and Aert Schouman as highlights. It becomes clear, among other things, that the function of the birds differs considerably in each genre. Some guidelines are given for further research into the number, the status and the reputation of bird artists; the contacts between artists and their public; the roles that a feeling for nature and hunting play; and the relationship between art and science. Furthermore, using some examples it is shown that an analysis of birds in paintings can generate some interesting new questions from a field biology perspective. This not only prevents incorrect identifications but also spurs on the research into art. Questions concerning the identification of painted birds, the variety of species per painting and per artist, their preference for particular species of birds, the occurrence and geographical distribution of painted birds throughout the seasons, their suggested biotope, the presence and availability of exotic birds in menageries and nature collections, and the development of taxidermy can give new insights into the artists ideals and methods. Conversely, an analysis of the historical visual material, if carried out with great care, can also give biological information about the presence of certain birds species in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Knolle, Paul. (2009). Gevleugelde beelden. Observaties aan vogels in de Nederlandse schilderkunst van de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 12(2), 145–186. doi:10.18146/tmg.566