|In 1654 Fabritius painted this goldfinch, recognisable by the red on its head and the bright yellow marking on its black wing. These birds had long been popular house pets. This one, too, lived in captivity, attached to a chain. Goldfinches were often taught to perform tricks, such as lowering a thimble-sized cup into a glass to draw their own drinking water. The Dutch verb putten, meaning to draw water from a well, gave the bird its nickname – puttertje.
This painting is one of around 15 works known to have been made by Fabritius, who died tragically young. He painted it in 1654, shortly before he died in the explosion of the Delft powder magazine – a disaster which destroyed a large part of the city.
This small painting was presumably conceived as a trompe-l'oeil, a ‘deception of the eye’. It was made to hang high on the wall, as is evident from the lower semicircular perch – added later to heighten the trompe-l’oeil effect – which we view from beneath. Unwitting viewers standing a short distance away could thus be tricked into thinking that a real bird was perched there.