Birds in ArtBirds in Art

Birds in Art

Birds in Art
Nov, 24, 2020


Birds in Art

Artworks have featured birds for thousands of years, as evidenced in the Lascaux cave paintings made more than 17,000 years ago. There’s no doubt that, as creatures bound to the terrestrial realm, humans have long been inspired by birds, their ability to take flight, and the unique perspective they have on the world around us. Birds often symbolize a certain aspirational quality that sets human beings apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, which is why depictions of divine beings often draw upon the physicality of these winged creatures.

Renaissance paintings and prints, for example, present angels with human bodies but bird-like wings. Indigenous peoples across the Americas have used ravens and eagles as physical symbols for a pantheon of gods. And in Mexico, the design of the national flag references an Aztec prophecy of a predestined site for the Aztec city Tenochtitlán, where founders saw an eagle devour a serpent from atop a prickly-pear cactus.

In the United States, the bald eagle was first adopted as a national symbol in the late 18th century, when an illustration of the bird was selected to adorn the Great Seal. Since then, depictions of the eagle have been a key element in both artwork and propaganda, intended to instill a sense of patriotic pride.

As many across the country celebrate Thanksgiving this week, it’s worth noting that the bald eagle as a national symbol was not the first choice of one very famous American. Benjamin Franklin, the writer, politician, and inventor who is considered to be one of the “Founding Fathers,” a now archaic term that excludes more than 10,000 years of collective Indigenous history in North America, actually preferred the humble turkey as a representation of the U.S., believing it better symbolized the plucky fortitude of Americans fighting for their independence from British rule.

The PhxArt Collection is home to many remarkable bird-inspired artworks. Here are just a few of our favorites from across the fashion design and American, Asian, European, Latin American, and modern art collections.


Unknown, Female figure holding a bird (Figura femenina sosteniendo un ave), Six Dynasties period. Gray pottery with pigment traces. Museum purchase with funds provided by Cheryl Fine.

Female Figure Holding a Bird (Six Dynasties Period), China

Unknown, Bronze mirror with Mandarin ducks, birds and floral design (Espejo de bronce con diseño floral, de aves y patos mandarines), Tang dynasty. Bronze. Gift of Richard J. Faletti.

Bronze Mirror with Mandarin Ducks, Birds, and Floral Design (Tang Dynasty), China

Unknown, Large trumpet mouth vase with bird and flower motifs against brocade background (Gran jarrón con gollete de trompeta con motivos de pájaros y flores sobre fondo de brocado), 1865-1880. Cloisonne. Gift of Waynor and Laurie Rogers in honor of the Museum's 50th Anniversary.

Trumpet Mouth Vase with Bird and Flower Motifs (1865-1880), Japan

Joseph Stella, Bird (Oriole) (Párajo [oropéndola]), 1920s-1930s. Pencil, crayon and colored pencil on card stock. Gift of Alan Pensler.

Bird (Oriole) (1920s-1930s) by Joseph Stella

Francisco Zúñiga, Madre, hijo y pájaro (Mother, Child and Bird), 1962. Pen. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Orme Lewis.

Madre, Hijo, y Pajaro (1962) by Francisco Zuñiga

Fritz Scholder, Posing Indian with Bird Headdress (Indio con tocado de pájaro), 1972. Acrylic on canvas. Gift of Edward Jacobson.

Posing Indian with Bird Headdress (1972) by Fritz Scholder

Rebecca Campbell, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? (¿Realmente quieres lastimarme?), 2009. Avocado tree reinforced with steel and fiberglass, covered in hand-sewn velvet, hand-blown glass birds on brass feet filled with Windex; steel filled with Solar Salt harvested from the Great Salt Lake. Gift of Rebecca Campbell and L.A. Louver, Venice, California.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? (2009) by Rebecca Campbell

Zandra Rhodes, Blouse (Blusa), 1970-1971. Silk. Arizona Costume Institute Purchase.

Blouse (1970-1971) by Zandra Rhodes

Ralph Rucci, Brown double-faced wool gown with black lacquered ostrich edging (Vestido de lana marrón reversible con ribete de avestruz lacado negro), fall 2003. Double faced wool with lacquered ostrich feathers. Gift of Chado Ralph Rucci.

Double-Faced Wool Gown with Black-Lacquered Ostrich Edging (2003) by Ralph Rucci

Marco Dente, Annunciation (La Anunciación), not dated. Engraving. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Shohet.

Annunciation (15th-16th centuries) by Marco Dente

Unknown, Hebe feeding the Eagle of Zeus (Hebe alimenta al águila de Zeus), 18th-19th century. Shell. Gift of Pierre J. and Velma J. Touraine.

Hebe Feeding the Eagle of Zeus (18th-19th centuries)

Edouard Marcel Sandoz, Goose with Snail on Beak (Ganso con caracol en el pico), not dated. Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Noah Butkin.

Goose with Snail on Beak (20th century) by Edouard Marcel Sandoz

Henri E. A. Trodoux, Pheasant with Frog (Faisán con rana), not dated. Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Noah Butkin.

Pheasant with Frog (19th century) by Henri E.A. Troudoux

Edouard Marcel Sandoz, Sparrow (Gorrión), not dated. Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Noah Butkin.

Sparrow (20th century) by Edouard Marcel Sandoz

James Walker, Sketch for Title Page (Boceto para la página de título), 1862. Pencil. Gift of the Carl S. Dentzel Family Collection.

Sketch for Title Page (1862) by James Walker

Winslow Homer, Woman Driving Geese (Mujer arreando gansos), 1878-1879. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H.L. Pratt.

Woman Driving Geese (1878-1879) by Winslow Homer

Philip C. Curtis, The Last Campaign (La última campaña), 1964. Oil on board. Gift of Mrs. Clare Boothe Luce.

The Last Campaign (1964) by Philip C. Curtis

Shoson, Heron in the Snow (Garza en la nieve), 1935. Woodblock print. Gift of Mary Ann and Clancy Boyd in memory of Mary and Jesse McComb.

Heron in the Snow (1935) by Shoson

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