Biagio d'Antonio da Firenze: Madonna with child, angels & Saints (& goldfinch)
"Madonna col Bambino, Angeli e Santi"
di Biagio d'Antonio (1446 c. – doc. al 1508),
Italy, First half of the 15th century
Saint Petersburg, Hermitage
Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism the Goldfinch is associated with the Passion and Christ's Crown of Thorns. The Goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion.
Examples include the Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted (c. 1505-1506) by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, in which John the Baptist offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future.
In Barocci's Holy Family a goldfinch is held in the hand of John the Baptist who holds it high out of reach of an interested cat.
In Cima da Conegliano's Madonna and Child, a goldfinch flutters in the hand of the Christ Child.
It is also an emblem of endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence. Because it symbolizes the Passion, the goldfinch is considered a "saviour" bird and may be pictured with the common fly (which represents sin and disease, see Carlo Crivelli’s “Madonna and child” from the MET). During medieval times, this bird was used by some as a charm to ward off the plague.