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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Birds, in their infinite and colourful variety, have long been a source of artistic inspiration. They have been sketched, painted and carved as specimens of scientific interest or aesthetic delight. They have been included in compositions to transmit religious, poetic and even political meanings – sometimes the same species of bird has been used to symbolise several different things at once. Take a look at the paintings, drawings, prints and decorative objects below, made over a period of more than 500 years: from the eagle to the kiwi, the owl to the ostrich, each bird featuring in these artworks tells a different story.

Sano di Pietro (Siena 1406-Siena 1481)

The Virgin and Child, Two Saints and six Angels

Master of the Die (active 1530-60)

Three Putti Playing with an Ostrich

Workshop of Giulio Romano (Rome c. 1499-Mantua 1546)

The Omen of Claudius's Imperial Powers

Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820)


Attributed to Frans van Mieris the Elder (Leiden 1635-Leiden 1681)

A Lady with her Parrot

Roelandt Savery (Kortrijk 1576 - Utrecht 1639)

A Landscape with Birds

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and studio

Minerva, or Wisdom striking Ignorance

Melchior de Hondecoeter (Utrecht 1636-Amsterdam 1695)

Birds and a Spaniel in a Garden

Jakob Bogdani (c. 1660-1720)

Birds and Fruit in a Landscape

Rosalba Giovanna Carriera (Venice 1675-Venice 1757)

Self-Portrait as 'Innocence'

Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

The Goat-Sucker of Carolina

? Italian

Snuff box

Prince Albert, Prince Consort, consort of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-61)

A Long-Eared Owl

Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-73)

The Lory

Auguste Bouvier (c. 1837-81)

Lesbia and the Sparrow

Henrik Immanuel Wigström (1862-1923)