Madonna & Child, Jesus holding bird


At an art museum the other day, I saw 2 or 3 paintings where the infant Jesus was holding a bird, symbol of the soul.

How far back does this tradition date? (I think the paintings I saw were 14th or 15th Century.)


Im in an art class and we were wondering why jesus is almost always holding a bird in the paintings. You say it represents the sould. Where did you find this out? Can you give me more info on this?



That was so long ago, I don't remember. It was either on a placard on the wall near some of the paintings, or else I did a Google search when I got back. I didn't find much just now in a quick search, so it may have been in the museum where I read it.


I can’t give you a date, but I can verify the meaning. I think the basis of the symbolism is the birds’ ability to fly, and thus it represents the “higher” dimension of the person, the soul.

But that’s just birds generally. Specific kinds of birds may have different symbolic meanings in Christian art. Because goldfinches eat thistles, they symbolize the passion of Christ. Raphael has a painting of Jesus stroking a goldfinch, representing his acceptance of the passion. Sparrows, because of Jesus’ words about them in the gospels, represent God’s loving care even for seemingly insignificant things. The pelican is sometimes depicted feeding her own blood to her young, symbolizing the Eucharist. Peacocks have several different meanings, most positive (transfiguration, the Church, etc.) and at least one negative (pride, vanity). :slight_smile:


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