A Young Woman at a Window with a Parrot and a Birdcage

This tiny, detailed painting by Pieter Cornelisz. Van Slingeland isn’t just a portrait: it holds a double meaning. Take a deeper dive into the work.

A Young Woman at a Window with a Parrot and a Birdcage (ca. 1670) by Pieter Cornelisz. van SlingelandMilwaukee Art Museum

The artist, Pieter Cornelisz. van Slingeland, was extremely successful in his day. His paintings sold for as much as 600 florins, which is roughly more than twice what the average annual household income was in 1650.

This painting is of a woman with a parrot on her finger, but the symbols tell a second story.

Cage, bird
The cage symbolizes the bonds of respectable love, and the bird represents a woman. Inside the cage, the bird—and thus, the woman— is safe and protected. A bird outside of a cage represented a woman who was free, but also vulnerable.

The cage door is open, and the woman holds the bird firmly on her finger. Is she freeing the bird, or about to put it inside the cage? Dutch artists at the time often created images that were ambiguous; they liked to leave it up to the viewer to interpret their meaning.

Note how three-dimensional the birdcage seems. Slingeland was known for his very detailed style.

The strands of hair escaping the bun are incredibly detailed and thin. Slingeland was trained by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou, who was rumored to have painted with a brush so fine it had only a single hair.

The apron the woman wears is nearly translucent. Once, while painting a family portrait, Slingeland allegedly took six weeks to paint the lace on a child’s collar.

Imagine how long the texture of this fabric would have taken to perfect.

The young woman leans over the ledge, as if about to come into our space. Even the birdcage seems to tip forward toward us.

This type of composition was common at the time and is called trompe-l’oeil, in which artists playfully create images that seem 3-D to “fool the eye”— the meaning of the phrase in French.

Credits: Story

Pieter Cornelisz. van Slingeland
(Dutch, 1640–1691
A Young Woman at a Window with a Parrot and a Birdcage, ca. 1670
Oil on panel
9 × 7 in. (22.86 × 17.78 cm)
Purchase, with funds from the Myron and Elizabeth P. Laskin Fund
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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