Cecco di Pietro, Virgin and Child Playing with a Goldfinch and Holding a Sheaf of Millet, 1379. kms3378National Gallery of Denmark

Cecco di Pietro is a typical artist from the early Italian Renaissance. The figures are stylised and have little volume. The surroundings are without depth or perspective. These features tie the motif to the surface and lift it out of the flow of time. 

The gold ground symbolically denotes that we are in a realm beyond ours, in Heaven. As was common in art at the time, everything has symbolic significance. The infant Jesus holds a goldfinch, which symbolises the Passion – the bird lives on thistles, and so refers to the crown of thorns. 

The bird has a ribbon tied around its foot. Its fettering symbolises the soul caged in the body. Only with the Resurrection is the soul set free. Thus, the bird also becomes a symbol of resurrection. The sheaf of millet in the child’s right hand symbolises the bread of communion, and the coral around his neck protects the child against evil.

By: Eva de la Fuente Pedersen (