As Christmas nears my thoughts turn to the Madonna. I love the universality of the Blessed Mother, there is of course no denying she is a Christian image, but the glories of motherhood expand beyond dogma.
I love the many incarnations she has taken, but a favorite theme is one in which she and the Saviour are playing with a tame goldfinch. I love the domesticity, I of course love the bird, and I love the symbolism.
Madonna of the Goldfinch Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
National Gallery of Art
The goldfinch most often depicted is not the one I grew up with, the bright yellow beauty;the finch most often depicted has a bright happy red head.
The allegory of the goldfinch stems from thorns and thistles, the spiny thistle a source of food for this dear bird.
The symbolism is rich, the thistles and thorns can be traced from the beginning, in this case Genesis 3:17-18 “…cursed is the ground…it will produce thorns and thistles for you…”. This is of course after the fall of Adam and Eve. The Saviour to come ,will wear a crown of thorns, the thistle of Adam transformed .The goldfinch will affectionately try to relieve His suffering , in doing so blood will mark her little head, forever staining the finch.
The finch is also thought to be a symbol of our souls waiting to be saved.
Much rides on this little bundle of feather and joy.
This little charmer was captured by my dear friend Victor at his home in Pittsburgh which he shares with his lovely wife Clare and their enchanting brood.
I would like to look at other less familiar yet equally lovely examples; many from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, familiar friends.
The following by Baroccio really delights me, the coloring is exquisite of course; but the interplay between St. John, the finch, and the young cat is beautifully captured.
There is a really delightful description of this ethereal painting at this link.
active 1482-d. 1517/18
A particular favorite follows, I always made a point of visiting this painting. Perhaps it was the odd selection of produce overhead .
The coloring drives me mad. I love how the Child is squeezing the poor little bird just a little too tight, soon he we will be scolded.
I happen to have a client, quite devout, who from time to time I have the opportunity to paint for. On my last trip I painted a small mural incorporating Catholic symbolism. I happened to squeeze in a goldfinch of the bright yellow New Jersey variety as the mistress of the house hales from the same state as the author.
The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and soloists directed by Ton Koopman.
Wishing all a blessed Christmas,