The Feathery Muse - Parrots Inspiring Art
Have you ever watched your parrot and thought to yourself that their beauty and grace is so captivating that they could have been imagined by an artist? While no person created them into existence, there have been many that saw parrots and found inspiration in their bright colors and dazzling displays in flight. Parrots have been inspiring people all over the world for many years to create works of art. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the ways artists have found inspiration in our feathered companions and what beautiful artwork has resulted from it. Although there are far too many pieces to include in one blog post, I hope to show you enough to pique your interest in looking for more.
The First Feathered Inspirations
We can look back as far as about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago to find our first discovery of art depicting parrots! A drawing of what appears to be macaws was found in a cave in Brazil. They were drawn on the top of a limestone cavern. Although we still don’t have a precise date on the drawings, it was certainly a very long time ago that we saw our first example of humans feeling inspired to draw their avian neighbors.
As time passed and parrots started to find their way to other parts of the world, artists began to use them in their artwork. Alexander the Great brought back parrots from India in 327 B.C and introduced more people to them. Of course, people were captivated by their beauty and also their ability to mimic human speech. They especially became a way for wealthy people and those in power to show their wealth by displaying parrots and giving them as gifts to other wealthy and powerful people.
This is the Hellenistic mosaic floor panel of an Alexandrine parakeet. This parrot was named after Alexander the Great after he brought birds from the west and introduced them to locals. They became popular pets for wealthy families as a way to display that wealth. This piece was taken from an altar room of palace V at the Pergamon Acropolis in Turkey and was made around the middle of the 2nd century BC. This type of mosaic is known as opus vermiculatum, Latin for “worm-like work” and was a type of mosaic. This technique used different types of stone or shells from pearls that were used as individual parts of a design. It is considered a very elaborate form of mosaic and took a great deal of time to complete.
This work is called “The Five-Colored Parakeet” and it is attributed as a work of the last Song Emperor, Huizong (ruled from 1100–1125CE) though there is some debate as to whether or not he painted it himself. He is known for his love of birds and is quoted to have said in a poem he wrote about the parakeet “Heaven produced the parakeet, this unusual bird.” He also added, “When he flies to the treetops, he seems envied by all feathered creatures.”
The Song Dynasty was said to be quite advanced and wealthy. In contrast to other emperors before him, Huizong was said to place a high value on the arts. He wanted to use this piece of art as an example to his more elite classes of how art should be done and how it should serve the state. It is said, however, that because he placed such a high value on the arts, he neglected other aspects of his responsibilities to his people. This resulted in the invasion of the Jurchen where they were able to take the capital and capture the emperor.
In the last quarter of the thirteenth century, a type of manuscript roll called a genealogy roll, created to show genealogical information of a royal or noble family, featured what is believed to be an African grey parrot with a king of England. The king is sitting with the parrot that is native to the coast of Africa. Genealogy of the kings of England from the Heptarchy to Edward I.
Monarchs around this time would often present parrots and other exotic animals as gifts and exchange. Parrots were seen as luxurious and exotic and were valued because of their beauty and long lifespan. They were also more likely than many other animal companions to survive long journeys with their owners due to their long lives and varied diets.
Recent Historical Artwork
As time goes on, we see more examples of parrots in art. It is said that when they are depicted in religious pieces, which was the case more often than I realized, they were meant to represent virtuousness and marital chastity. One example of this is in a 1436 piece by Jan Van Eyck titled “Madonna with the Canon van der Paele.” I won’t show it here because there is nudity, but it is indeed a beautiful piece worth looking up.
In other pieces, they were also said to represent the desire to learn and grow because they could be taught to mimic human speech. Although it might seem strange to us today, one example of this is in a piece featuring Adam and Eve from the bible. In the top left, you can see a parrot perched on a sign. The parrot that can be taught to use human speech was seen as miraculous. So, then, it was also like the Virgin Mary, who could become pregnant and give birth to Jesus Christ. This piece is titled “Adam and Eve” and was created in 1504.
People truly were astounded that parrots could mimic human speech. It isn't hard to imagine why. Before they were introduced to this part of the world, people likely never imagined an animal would speak. They saw it as a miracle, perhaps even divinely inspired. That is just one of the reasons that parrots were regarded so highly by many at this time and featured in so much art.
They were also used to represent luxury, beauty, and wealth as most people who owned parrots were of wealthy families. Frans van Mieris was an artist who often depicted interior scenes showcasing the day-to-day lives of wealthy families. Often, not only the parrots were seen as a centerpiece in a room but also their dwelling. Throughout history, parrot cages were often used as works of art themselves. Many times they weren't even used as a cage for a parrot but as art instead. They sometimes weren’t even practical as habitats for a parrot due to how embellished and elaborate they were. They would sometimes feature jewels and precious metals along with their elaborate design.
This painting, featured left, by Frans van Mieris is titled “Young Woman Feeding a Parrot” and was painted in 1663.
In 1871, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a French artist born in 1841 leading the development of the “impressionist” style of painting created “Woman with a Parrot”. (shown right) Impressionism is a style of painting in which small, thin, yet visible brush strokes are used with bare impression of form, unblended color, and an emphasis on the accurate depiction of natural light. The painting is currently at the Guggenheim Museum, in New York.
Impressionism was developed in France and was typically done with more spontaneity, capturing fleeting moments. Artists would become inspired on the spot and begin to create their work. The pieces often had an unfinished look to them and had bright, vibrant colors. Artists using this method wanted to accurately capture their subject using light and its effects on color and mood. They also wanted to try and capture the passage of time using this method. Some of the most famous impressionist artists include Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro.
In 1936, Max Beckman, born in 1884 created “Quappi with Parrot” a piece depicting his wife, QuappI, and their Amazon parrot. Max Backman fled Germany about a year after creating this piece following a speech by Adolf Hitler regarding “degenerate art”. A blog post by Gail Sibley titled Women And Parrots In Paintings – How They Are Depicted tells us, “Although there is no overt sexuality, it is notable that she is offering an apple to the bird, the fruit of knowledge leading to the downfall of Adam and Eve.” The painting resides at the Art Museum of Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.
In 1933 when the Nazi party took control, they started a campaign in which they wanted to unite all of society with German politics. In an effort to align the arts with their ideals, they created the Reich Chamber of Culture. In it, all forms of art were monitored and controlled. Any form of art that was deemed to go against their political ideals was deemed degenerate and dangerous and was typically confiscated. The Nazis believed that art had a large influence on society and that made it potentially dangerous to their ideals if it did not align properly with them.
The famous Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter born in 1907 who was known for her self-portraits and paintings of nature and parts of Mexico. She enjoyed capturing the cultural aspects of her home country and her day-to-day life. She liked to include her pets in some of her paintings and in 1941, she created a piece entitled “Me and My Parrots” It is now part of a private collection.
This was just a very small series of examples of art from this time. Many beautiful pieces have been inspired by parrots of all different species throughout history. It is definitely work a look to find more!
Parrots are Still Inspiring Us
Today, parrots can be seen flapping, flying, calling and singing all over the internet and in art galleries, plushies, mosaics, and tapestries among many other works. They continue to inspire artists and bird lovers to portray them in their own ways. You can get them on stickers, prints and even have a custom piece created of your feathered companion. You can even have an AI render a piece of parrot art in seconds.
What is it about parrots that continues to captivate us? Some would say that their ability to fly is the main reason. That we, as humans, are bound to the earth while they can soar through the skies and go wherever they please. That the core aspect of this ability to fly is freedom - something human beings have long fought for and sought after. Still, others would say they capture us because of their beauty. There are certainly very few other examples that could compare to the parrot’s grace. The color of their feathers and the beauty in their songs are unique to almost anything else that can be found in nature. Or, perhaps, it is their intelligence? Anyone who has spent time with a parrot can tell you how smart they are. They can learn quickly and often challenge us and our view of the world in how they interact with not just us, but with one another.
Maybe it’s a combination of all the aspects of a parrot that keeps us watching the sky and coming back to our pets every day. Similar to human beings, parrots are complicated, fascinating yet messy creatures. Each one has its own personality and yet each one displays such unique beauty. All of those things that we love about them are likely to keep inspiring artists in the years and centuries to come.
I hope you've enjoyed learning a little more about parrots and their role in our art. I encourage you to check out our line of parrot food products to help inspire your parrot companions to try new and exciting flavors that are healthy and enriching like our Appleberry Feast on the Fly.
Artwork Featured (in order):
Macaws in a cave in Brazil: Caverns placed under local protection
Hellenistic mosaic floor panel of an Alexandrine parakeet: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany photo by Carole Raddato
"The Five-Colored Parakeet”: by Emperor Huizong, Asian Artistic Exchange: Chazen Museum of Art
Genealogy of the kings of England from the Heptarchy to Edward I: Anon. British Library, London.
"Adam and Eve": by Albrecht Dürer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Young Woman Feeding a Parrot" Frans van Mieris, The Leiden Collection, New York
"Woman with a Parrot" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Guggenheim Museum, New York
"Quappi with Parrot": by Max Beckmann, Art Museum of Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany
"Me and My Parrots": by Frida Kahlo, private collection
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Emperor Huizong, Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014. https://doi.org/10.4159/harvard.9780674726420
Gail Sibley “Women and Parrots in Paintings – How They Are Depicted.” Gail Sibley, BFA, MA, 18 Aug. 2014, www.gailsibley.com/2014/08/18/women-and-parrots-in-paintings
Melanie V Taylor. “Of Parrots, Kings and Other Things!” Melanie V Taylor, 30 July 2022, www.melanievtaylor.co.uk/2022/05/11/of-parrots-kings-and-other-things
“Young Woman Feeding a Parrot.” The Leiden Collection, 10 June 2022, www.theleidencollection.com/artwork/woman-feeding-a-parrot
“‘DEGENERATE’ ART.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/degenerate-art-1
“Me and My Parrot, 1941 by Frida Kahlo.” Frida Kahlo Paintings, Biography, Quotes, www.fridakahlo.org/me-and-my-parrots.jsp
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