Title   Vogel copie; Vogelaar (Search for the image)
Translated title Birds For Sale
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a bird seller (`vogelaar’)

Code of occupational group 45220
Description A bird seller walks in the countryside with a four-tiered birdcage strapped onto his back. He holds the handles of two long birdcages, one in each hand. The top of the cages on his back indicates the birds are for sale. He talks with a young boy at the left who faces him. The boy holds up a smaller cage of birds in his hands. Either the boy is selling his birds to the man, or purchasing some. It is likely that the boy intends to sell them to the bird-seller. Boys often caught small songbirds by liming twigs with glue and placing them in the fields or near the dunes where the migratory birds alighted. The birds' feet stuck to the glue, rendering the creatures immobile, and the birds were picked up by the trapper boys and put into small cages.

Birds were kept as pets in the Netherlands, particularly prettily colored songbirds. Their antics amused people. But small birds were also used in cooking. Small birds might be combined with other meats, spices, and vegetables into pies*, stews, or meatballs, or they could be roasted and braised whole.

The image of the bird took on several different meanings in Dutch art. Because the Dutch had a slang expression in which "to bird" meant "to copulate", a number of prints, such as Gillis van
Breen's engraving after C. Clock of "The Bird Seller", and paintings with bird hunters or bird sellers or poultry-men are thought to be making a double entendre, especially if there is a woman in the scene. Bramer's drawing does not have obviously sexual allusions.

Game birds, however, were also incorporated into still lifes which either celebrated the hunt or called attention to the transitory qualities of life. See, for example, Elias Vonck "Still Life with Dead Birds" and Salomon van Ruysdael's "Hunting Piece with Dead Birds", both in Museum Bredins. And small birds in their cages were sometimes included in domestic interiors. (Indeed, the birdcage was thought to be an especially apt image for the virtuous woman who stayed at home and did not flit about in the outside world.) Probably the most famous Dutch painting of a small bird is the one attached to its perch with a thin linked chain by Carel Fabritius (Mauritshuis), an exceedingly talented young painter who was killed in Delft when the municipal arsenal exploded in October 1654. Bramer's drawing seems pastoral, with no underlying sym- bolic messages.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

Notes * One recipe for finch pastry called for cinnamon, sugar, candied fruit peel, currants, pinenuts, butter, and was served with a sweetened Rhenish wine sauce according to Peter G. Rose's translation of The Sensible Cook.


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