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More than Mimicry: The Parrot in Dutch Genre Painting

The newly independent Dutch Republic established a vast and profitable trade network in the 17th century. Among the most coveted of the impressive luxury imports was the parrot. Beautiful, exotic, and rare, parrots become a mainstay in Dutch genre paintings. Their presence in these works is, however, more than ostentatious display. These very social and intelligent creatures were highly valued companions. The interaction between parrots and people gave Dutch genre painters an unprecedented opportunity for creativity and candor, upon which they skillfully capitalized. In this lecture held on December 26 at the National Gallery of Art, Kristen Gonzalez traces the iconography of these birds in the history of art and highlights the departure from tradition evident in their depiction in the Dutch Golden Age. This lecture accompanies the landmark exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, on view from October 22, 2017, through January 21, 2018, which examines the artistic exchanges among Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries from the mid-1650s to around 1680, when they reached the height of their technical ability and mastery of genre painting.