Responding to the contemporary rage for pastoral scenes depicting amorous countryside games, François Boucher here exhibited young, fashionable couples in the act of catching birds. In the 1700s, small birds played an important symbolic role in courtship ritual: the gift of a caged bird from a man to a woman signified her capture of his heart. Posed in front of the ruins of the Temple of Vesta, young women dressed in exquisite finery play with small birds; some tether them with strings while others daintily hold them on their fingers.

The Bird Catchers and its pendant, The Fountain of Love, were finished cartoons or models for a series of tapestries known as the Noble Pastorales. Eventually, the cartoons were cut into sections and sold separately. In the surviving tapestries these scenes contain additional sections that are now missing from the cartoons, revealing that Boucher paintings were originally even larger.


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