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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and studio

Minerva, or Wisdom striking Ignorance c. 1632-4

RCIN 408419

Main Banqueting Hall, Banqueting House

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Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, is often depicted accompanied by an owl, which itself is now widely recognised as the symbol of wisdom. In this enormous painting by Rubens, which is part of the ceiling decoration of the Banqueting House at Whitehall, a small owl is about to crown Minerva with a laurel wreath, as she strikes a personified Ignorance with her spear. The ceiling painting was commissioned by Charles I in memory of his father, James I, and this depiction of Wisdom is one of four corner panels representing the perceived virtues of James’ reign. In the central painting, The Apotheosis of James I, the symbolic associations of another bird are deployed: the king sits upon an eagle, representing his imperial domination.