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Godefridus Schalcken, A Useless Moral Lesson, c. 1690

The meaning of this scene by the ‘fijnschilder’, or fine painter, Schalcken would have been immediately clear to seventeenth-century viewers. It concerns the lesson being given to the young, fashionable woman, while she almost lets the little bird escape from its cage. The bird is symbolic of her virginity. The old woman standing beside her is raising her finger in warning and cautioning her against the dangers of love. But her lesson is useless – the young virgin is hardly listening.

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