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Born in Strasbourg, the Swiss painter Albrecht Kauw (1616–1681) spent most of his working life in Bern, where he worked mainly in the field of landscape and still life painting. According to Swiss genealogist, Valentine von Fellenberg, Kauw lived close to and became friendly with the Steiger family, and in 1645 painted their daughter, Johanna at the age of two. The family’s crest, an ibex rampant, is included in the upper right hand corner.
Kauw has brought all his skills at realism, so essential to still life painting, to this portrait. Johanna stands dressed in all her finery, her solid little face peering out at us beneath her starched white lace cap. Her family’s wealth is demonstrated in the richness of her embroidered and lace-trimmed costume, as well as the jewelled rosette at her waist. She also has a tiny ring on the little finger of her right hand. She holds a spray of flowers in her hand, their white petals a symbol of purity and innocence. Interestingly, a similar meaning was often attributed to the parrot, which sits on a swing at her side. In the ancient world, the parrot was valued for its ability to imitate human speech, while in the medieval bestiaries its reputation for cleanliness saw it equated with both Christ and the Virgin Mary, both of whom were free from the stain of sin. As a symbol of innocence and purity it is an appropriate attribute for children. At a more venal level, the parrot might also have been included as a demonstration of the family’s wealth, as the bird is an import from South America.
- Johanna Katharina Steiger, aged 2
- Production date
- oil on canvas
- 928 x 705 mm
- Credit line
- Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased with assistance from the Gallery, 2010
- Accession no
- Copyright Expired
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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