Turtle doves – which got their name from their distinctive turrrturrr-ing call – have featured in art and culture for thousands of years. Their beauty and song have inspired many. From the Romans to Elizabethan poets, musicians and painters such as Van Heemskerck, who painted this Allegory of Innocence and Guile. The painting is a personification of a verse from St Matthew’s Gospel (10:16) “Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The birds endearing purr and visibly tender affections when perching in pairs has made them a symbol of love.
Van Heemskerck studied in the studio of Jan van Scorel under whose guidance he developed a fine style and an impressive reputation in his own right. It has been said that this popularity drove a rift between the two and that Scorel eventually dismissed van Heemskerck from his studio.
In 1532 van Heemskerck left Haarlem to work in Italy where he studied the Renaissance masters, taking a particular interest in the art of Michelangelo. In 1535 he returned to his native country where he continued to paint in the Italian style. The elegant jewellery depicted in this painting is a fine example of a Renaissance goldsmith’s work.
Did you know? Turtle doves are among the UK’s fastest declining bird species.