Fabritius’ Goldfinch is undoubtedly the most looked at little bird in the history of art. Thousands of museum visitors adore this masterpiece every year.
Remarked as Rembrandt’s most talented student, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to this beautiful little bird.
In 1654, Fabritius painted a goldfinch with loose, visible brushstrokes. A charming little bird on a chain, in front of a whitewashed buy rather battered wall. Not much, but enough to captivate and stir up curiosity.
Common in the 17th Century, many wonder if Fabritius had his own pet Goldfinch as the painting is so enticingly real. Enough so to momentarily trick a visitor into thinking this little bird was a living pet.
Experiments with such ‘trompe I’oeil’ – deceiver of the eye - effects and perspective were all the rage in Fabritius’ day. The perfect illusion was the ultimate goal for an artist. When looking up close we can see how perspective and innovative techniques achieved this sense of Realism, intending for viewers from afar to mistake this portrait for a real Goldfinch.
Today the world continues to flock to see this special little bird, most recently influenced by Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch. In the novel, which won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the painting plays an all-important role for the protagonist, Theo. At the end of the book he wonders what inspired Fabritius to paint a goldfinch of all things:
Why not something more typical? Why not a seascape, a landscape, a history painting, a commissioned portrait of some important person, a low-life scene of drinkers in a tavern, a bunch of tulips for heaven’s sake, rather than this lonely little captive? Chained to his perch? Who knows what Fabritius was trying to tell us by his choice of tiny subject? His presentation of tiny subject? And if what they say is true - if every great painting is really a self-portrait – what, if anything, is Fabritius saying about himself?
From: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, 2013