I visited, too briefly, the Cleveland Museum of Art and found several fine examples of the now world-reknowned Christological Goldfinch.

But two were different.

Often you will see the finch grasped by the little Christ in his hand.  The bird is usually being either pretty much squished or it is trying to get away.  Sometimes he is pecking the divine hand in his struggle for freedom.

Here is one finch who succeeded!

This is from the mid 14th century from around Florence.  Note the shape of the eyes.

Madonna and Child Enthroned.  Pretty straight forward.

But wait!  He’s making a break for it.

This one got away.

Don’t YOU be the one who get’s away from His grasp.


And, because she’s lovely, a Virgin and Child with a bunch of grapes and the apple.  Sandstone, Burgundian early 15th century.

Look at the drapery.

Another goldfinch… another different goldfinch.

But first, a quick look at a more usual bird, pretty much under control.  Again, c. 1450.

And then there is this one.  Siena, 2nd half of 15th century, by Neroccio de’ Landi.

The finch has given them the slip, but he’s hanging around anyway.

You know the story of the Christological Goldfinch by now.    As legend has it, a finch tried to pull thorns from Christ’s head during His Passion.  He got some Blood on his head and has forever after had that red streak.   The finch is thus a symbol of Christ’s suffering and death for you, O sinner.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mother says:

    Thank you for this, Fr. Z.

  2. Susan M says:

    Last summer I was in the wilds of Florida on the shores of the St Johns River in a small town named Astor in the Ocala National Forest. I stopped by the pottery shop there which has statues, plants, pots, etc. While walking around outside I happened to look down and there on the ground covered with dirt, cracked by the rain and bleached white by the sun was a wood statue of Our Lady holding Baby Jesus Who has a bird – Goldfinch? – in his hand clasped to His chest. The Blessed Mother is holding a book…the Gospels, I suppose.

    The statue is a bit over 10″ tall and is exquisitely beautiful even with cracks. At one time it was painted because we can see flashes of paint here and there. It must have been carved by a highly expert craftsman because the detail is amazing. Have no idea what kind of wood it is.

    There was no price so when I took it to the counter and asked how much it was the man said “$12.95. It’s an antique.” I wondered what an antique was doing sitting in the rain and sun until it was almost ruined, but said nothing because I wanted it so badly. It is one of the most beautiful statues I have ever seen. Am testing it out at the moment because I think it MUST be a miraculous statue to have survived the horrendous conditions!! I think at least it was a miracle that I found it.

  3. benedetta says:

    Beautiful all, Father, thank you for that refreshment!

    One characteristic I appreciate particularly in the Florentine school is the articulated, elongated, and so graceful hand and fingers of the Madonna as well as the almond shape in the eyes. Such a beautiful variety of offerings and yet repeated spare but important essentials.

  4. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Might Neroccio de’ Landi be interrelating the Christological Goldfinch legend and the significance of the Circumcision of Our Lord?

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    As the world’s leading expert on the Christological Goldfinch maybe you should publish a coffee table book of all the variations, if not a scholarly monograph.

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    Interesting. In grade school I was told the same story to explain why the robin had a red breast.

  7. SanSan says:

    not all of your pictures loaded…..

  8. SanSan says:

    scratch that……this page pulled them all up in their glory…..thank you Father

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Z., among many other things I didn’t know that you have informed me about, I had never heard of a Christological goldfinch. The art is exquisite.
    Thank you!

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    I meant, I never heard of a Christological goldfinch until you educated me on them, some time ago on this blog.

  11. introibo says:

    Cleveland Museum of Art is a gem. And did you notice that the inside courtyard was the setting for the lobby of the Triskalion in Captain America Winter Soldier ? A lot of the movie was filmed in Cleveland…and Captain America “Smithsonian” exhibit was actually filmed at the historical society there.

  12. jilly says:

    My maiden name means “finch” in Polish. I figured it was because of our noses LOL but I think I’ll appropriate this connotation instead.
    Did the “Semper Catholicam Radiophonia” ham radio group on Awestruck.TV disappear?

  13. Giuseppe says:

    Unlike a goldfinch that is stained for life, a human can confess his or her sin and be forgiven. The red can be wiped away. Blood stains are hard to remove, yet Jesus does this for us.

  14. Margaret says:

    Question from someone with no art history knowledge whatsoever: is there a significance to the shape of the eyes in the Florence painting? What that simply the convention of the time?

    And a comment: it simply boggles my mind that someone could chisel away at a block of sandstone, and get all that drapery correct.

  15. NBW says:

    Such beautiful art. Thank you Fr. Z.

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