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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

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

A Lady with her Parrot c.1660-80

RCIN 404617

West Closet, Hampton Court Palace

Parrots often feature in 17th-century Dutch portraits and genre paintings, and indeed were considered by wealthy households to be an exotic and sophisticated choice of pet. The one shown here is an African Grey Parrot, a breed which had only recently become available in the Low Countries and which was favoured for its rich red tail feathers. These intelligent birds were not only fashionable accessories, but also valued companions. In this painting, the sitter has interrupted her needlework to indulge her parrot’s plea for attention, its bowed head and raised neck feathers indicating its wish to be stroked.