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The Hidden  Symbolism  of Birds in Western Painting
A preening peacock, a playful finch, a hovering dove
a scheming vulture, a clever crow, a robin, an osprey—all are charmingly decorative to the average viewer. For painters of the Gothic, Early Renaissance and High Renaissance eras, birds were part of a rich visual symbolism. In a culture of restricted literacy symbolic imagery was vital in helping to spiritually enlighten the rabble. Narrative paintings, with their layer upon layer of vivid symbolism, provided instruction to the uneducated peasants who craved scriptural guidance. Origen Adamantius, an early Christian theologian stated "If all things were made through Him, clearly so must the splendid revelations have been which were made to the fathers and prophets, and became to them the symbols of the sacred mysteries of religion."Paintings throughout Western history have been used as guides in illuminating the divine mysteries of Gods Holy Word.  Birds of every variety are prominently featured in painting throughout Western art history.

Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding birds.

The Finch symbolizes a winged soul returning to heaven.

The Peacock symbolizes the Resurrection,
everlasting life and incorruptibility. It can also represent knightly vigilance and of Christian watchfulness. According to Anglo-Norman, Osmont, writes: "The eye-speckled feathers should warn a man that never too often can he have his eyes wide open, and gaze inwardly upon his own heart." A white peacock, symbolized marriage, and also narcissism, vanity and pride


The  Raven is a symbol of Saint Oswald who died in 992. He was born into a wealthy family but devoted his life to the poor. The raven can also symbolize death and illness. Saint Benedict
is is somtimes symbolically represented by a raven or depicted with a raven.

The Sparrow shown  near a window,  perched on a ledge, flying in a window, flying outside a window or perched on a branch outside a window,  represents the soul of a recently deceased loved one. A caged sparrow symbolizes impeding death.

Goose or Geese symbolizes simplicity, home, a selfless soul. Geese are the emblem of Saint Cerbonius.

The Crow is a symbol of  adultery and or wicked thoughts when shown next to married couple, sometimes perched near the bed chamber or nesting on a small pillow in the background. The Crow or Raven also signifies the devils henchmen are close at hand when portrayed next to a holy figure.  If the Crow is carrying a silver coin, silver ring or sliver medal it symbolizes Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles and betrayer of Christ.

The Dove  a white dove hovering above a religious figure represents the Holy Spirit. The dove can represent a divine messenger,
peace and innocence. it also symbolizes the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity as well as.  Seven white doves symbolize the seven spirits of Holy Spirit in its sevenfold gifts of grace.

A chubby Pigeon represents self-indulgence and slothful ways.

The Owl is a symbol of wisdom but can also represent witchcraft or devilish doings if depited at night or dusk.

A Duck has several meanings. A white duck denotes purity of the soul and a clean conscious. A brown duck that is peering at the human figure suggests the person may be possessed by an evil spirit, devil or at the very least is filled with wickedness. A white duck swimming with swans or other water birds often symbolized the spread of Christianity  among the heathens.

The Phoenix is a symbol of the Resurrection and eternity.

The Cock symbolizes vigilance, and also is an emblem of St. Peter.

An Osprey on the wing signified the devils henchmen are close at hand.  A perched Osprey symbolizes Satan's vigilance in the hunt for backsliders and the easily corrupted.

The Vulture epitomized greed, corruption  and ruthless power.

Swan symbolizes purity and is also the emblem of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. he was a great animal lover and as well as caretaker to lepers. A swan he befriended fowled him around and kept watch of him as he slept.

The robin symbolizes deliverance from evil and God's holy mercy. A caged robin signifies  removal from Gods holy grace.


The Eagle is a symbol of Christ and of regeneration by baptism. John the Evangelist is symbolically represented by an eagle. 


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Key  Words, People and Principal Phrases, Characteristics Related to the Northern Renaissance Art Movement -  allegorical painting,  rebirth, invention of oil painting,   Hieronymus Bosch, Limbourg Brothers, Desiderius Erasmus,  Robert Campin, Jan Van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Albrecht Dürer, Johannes Gutenberg, Johann Reuchlin, Martin Luther, rise of the merchant class, world landscape,  Low Countries, Protestant Reformation, Calvinisim, glazing, impasto, scriptorium, illuminator, invention of the printing press, woodcuts, engravings, Antwerp School, Guild of Saint Luke, commerce, Flemish School, Northern Europe, Antwerp School, Flanders, Bruges, renewed interest in classical learning,  mythological scenes, genre painting, landscapes, portraits, moralizing overtones, human vices, lust, paradise, spirituality, piousness, living a simple life, reformHuman Reasoning,  tradesmen at work, idyllic scenes of peasantsplaying games, feasting,  linear perspective, \Heliocentric Theory, humour, satire,  spiritually significant, illuminated manuscriptidealized biblical themes, scriptorium, emotion, illuminator,  iconoclast, Age of Discovery, Virgin and Child, axonometric drawing, curiosity about the natural world,  realistic use of colours and lightOld Testament stories, Gospel parables, The Blackdeath,  Christian symbolism

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