RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)

Boy with Bird

c. 1616
Oil on panel, 49 x 40 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

A child of about two is shown playing with a captive bird. On the original panel, which was smaller, only the child's head was visible. Rubens made use of this study for an angel in the Madonna with a Floral Wreath in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Later the artist enlargened the picture on the left side, adding the hands with the bird.

Although formerly taken to be a girl, the child portrayed is in all probability Rubens' first son Albert, who was born in 1614. The motif of the child playing with a bird goes back to antiquity. It also crops up frequently in Christian art. The bird symbolizes the soul or life, which passes all too quickly. In many pictures of the Virgin and Child, Jesus is portrayed holding a bird in his hand as an allusion to his death and resurrection. Whether Rubens had a similar allegory in mind when he introduced the bird into his child-portrait, or whether some particular incident in his own life motivated him, is not known.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.