Raphael 1483 – 1520

Madonna of the Goldfinch

oil on panel (107 × 77 cm) — 1505-1506 Museum Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Raphael biography

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Tags: Madonna

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Jesus pets the goldfinch that his remote cousin John the Baptist holds. Mary looks up from her book.

In a number of other Madonnas by Raphael, the boys play with a toy cross, an obvious reference to Jesus' crucifixion. In this panel the goldfinch is the reference to the Passion. That bird has a preference for thistle seeds - and thistles can be used to make a crown of thorns.

According to Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, the goldfinch used to be a popular cagebird for children, because of its colourful plumage. Its red face is said to be caused by a drop of Jesus' blood: during the Way of the Cross, a goldfinch pulled a thorn from Jesus' forehead and a drop of blood fell on its head.

The Italian name of the panel is Madonna del cardellino. It was Raphael's wedding gift to his friend Lorenzo Nasi. In 1548 it was severely damaged by an earthquake. Between 1998 and 2008 it was restored to its original state.

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