Birds are an integral part of human life since time immemorial. In pre-historic times, a man used to draw pictures of birds and animals in different forms and perspectives. This is considered to be a primitive stage of drawings and arts. However, from that time to present, birds have become a great medium of art to display certain meanings and ideas.
The bird art language is fascinating and captivating for all. The caves of ancient ages depict the drawings of various types of birds such as cock, heron, peacock etc. Different empires and dynasties also adopted this art to establish their significance through flags, coins, pillars etc. In some religions, they represented the human soul, while in others they worked as intermediaries between earth and celestial worlds.
The symbolic importance of birds artwork
Great artists have utilized art prints of birds with some specific symbolic meanings in legends according to the faiths and beliefs of people of those times.
Romans portrayed their cultural notions in paintings that certain birds’ flights and sounds give a clue of future or the will of Gods. In Christian paintings, dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit. In a painting “The Annunciation with St. Emidius” created by Carlo Crivelli (1486), Holy Spirit dove descends through clouds and comes towards Mary. A peacock, which is considered to be a symbol of resurrection and immortality in Christianity, sits above the chamber of Mary on a balcony. A caged goldfinch represents the passion of Christ. Many other birds are flying over a dovecote on a house.
Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, a famous painter, and illustrator of the 18th century gave the message of hope by portraying two women holding a dove lovingly between them.
Gustave Moreau, the French Symbolist painter (1826-1898) who was famous for his mythological and religious paintings, depicted the beauty of peacock with an allegorical meaning in his painting “The Peacock Complaining to Juno” (1881). In it, a peacock is complaining to Goddess Juno about its weak voice and wishes to have a sound melodious like a nightingale’s. Gustave has emphasized the beauty of the bird by displaying its tail feathers fully opened. Juno, the Greek goddess in white robes makes a beautiful stark contrast to the colorful display of peacock which diverts a spectator’s eyes toward the peacock.
The Dutch golden age paintings depicted owl as a symbol of stupidity, licentiousness, and witchcraft. Frans Hals (1582 – 1666), an eminent Dutch painter in his painting Malle Babbe (ca.1633), displayed an owl on a woman’s shoulder. In it, her grinning suggests her mental illness and giant pewter tankard indicates intoxication.
In Rome, Owl was considered to be a symbol of moderation, wisdom, and calmness. So, Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom is usually seen with an owl in many Roman paintings. Simon Vouet (1590-1649), a famous French painter, in his famous painting “Allegorical Portrait of Anne of Austria As Minerva”(ca.1640), portrayed Minerva with an owl close to her feet. She has worn body armor that represents her form as a goddess of war who fought for justice.
The Phoenix, a mythical bird is considered to be a symbol of rebirth and regeneration in Christianity. In the Christian art of medieval age, Phoenix has often illustrated Christ’s resurrection as well as the invincible spirit of mankind. Artists like Friedrich Justin Bertuch and others portrayed this creature in their paintings in different ways.
In their paintings, where Chinese represented doves for marital fidelity and long life, Japanese depicted them an emblem of peace. In Indian paintings, a peacock is associated with Skanda, god of war, Kama, god of love, and Sarasvati, goddess of music and knowledge.
Whether doves and peacocks or owls and imaginary phoenix, birds of all categories have attracted the attention of artists of all ages. A vision of bird is used to represent divine spirit landing down from heaven and sometimes as human soul rising to the heaven. They also helped embody human feelings such as freedom, hope, peace, serenity, happiness etc. in art forms. So, the territory of wall art of birds is extensive that can be used in a variety of ways according to the desires and goals of an artist.