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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

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

The Omen of Claudius's Imperial Powers c.1536-9

RCIN 402806

Queen's Bathing Closet, Hampton Court Palace

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A large, dark eagle with wings outstretched is the focal point of this painting, which was part of a series, depicting the ancient Roman emperors, made to decorate the palace of the Gonzaga family in Renaissance Mantua. This eagle has two symbolic functions: within the story being told, it represents Imperial Rome, landing on the shoulder of Emperor Claudius as an omen of his future greatness. Yet the eagle, especially in this pose, also had a more contemporary, heraldic meaning, as it was part of the coat of arms of the Gonzaga family who commissioned the painting.