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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Master of the Die (active 1530-60)

Three Putti Playing with an Ostrich c.1530-35

RCIN 853318

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This engraving reproduces one of a 20-part series of tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X (1475–1521) for the Vatican Palace. The tapestries depicted ‘putti at play’, and the one copied here shows three naked children cheekily tormenting a bewildered ostrich. During the Renaissance and baroque periods, ostriches were objects of great fascination, considered strange hybrids of bird and beast, large and unable to fly, yet feathered and with beaks. In art, the ostrich could be used to symbolise a wide variety of qualities: while here it is merely the putti’s unwilling plaything, elsewhere in the Vatican Palace Raphael painted the ostrich as the attribute of Justice.