• D2224. Polychrome Birdcage Plaque
Delft, circa 1760
Painted with two yellow canary birds, one perched on a wooden stick, the other pecking from the feeding tray, within a wooden cage decorated on the front with a cartouche depicting a deer in a shrubbery landscape, a blue water cup suspended at one end, and the arched top pierced with a hole for suspension.
Height: 27.5 cm. (10.8 in.); Width: 26.5 cm. (10.4 in.)
In addition to spices such as pepper and cinnamon, countless exotic animals from Asia were brought by the VOC to the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. Among these animals were exotic birds, which functioned as pets in the Netherlands. The importation of animals is consistent with the increasing interest in nature as evidenced by the menageries, aviaries and cabinets of naturals that many enthusiasts collected.
In the seventeenth century, birdcages were often suspended from the ceiling by ribbons or cords and decorated on the underside with a beautiful design that enhanced the living space. They were prominent in the interior of the well- to-do, although the object did not lend itself well to an earthenware version. Since fragile objects like birdcages have a tendency to distort or even collapse altogether in the kiln, birdcage plaques were a nice substitute.
Birdcage plaques were typically part of the architectural scheme of a room, sometimes set within a wall amongst other tiles. The trompe l’oeil decoration was an intended effect to seamlessly blend into the interior, and perhaps match the room’s decorative trimmings. This birdcage plaque demonstrates the trompe l’ceil (deceive the eye) technique, a style often used in old master paintings to captivate and fool the viewer. The Delft potters probably took inspiration from seventeenth-century still life paintings with trompe l’oeil effects. As can be seen on this plaque, the painted depth and realism of the scene create an optical illusion. Not only in trompe l’ceil paintings, but also in seventeenth-century genre paintings birdcages are often depicted. The taste for birdcages was widespread; the plaques were made in Delft as well as Northern Dutch factories. Although bird cage plaques are not uncommon, a cage with two birds is rare.
Birdcage plaques of this form with minor variations are not uncommon, however, no other birdcage plaque with two canary birds is currently known to us.