When traveling to Europe ten or so years ago I became very enamored of the medieval representation of the pelican. Now when in various churches, museums or town squares with students (like this last May in a square in Brugge,) I am quick to point them out when I see them abroad. In this post are few examples.
Historically in Christian symbolism the pelican was seen as a representation of Christ . This interpretation came about with a legend that the father pelican when seeing his children dying pierced his breast and fed his chicks with his own blood to revive them; hence becoming an analogy of Christ, who gave his life to give us life.
Here are some lines about the pelican from a medieval bestiary:
He pierces his side with his beak
So that the blood flows;
From the blood which issues
He brings life back into the
Of his chicks, be in no doubt of
And in this way he gives them
If you are interested in understanding more about medieval animal imagery I recommend the book: The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (translated and Abridged by D.M. Dooling). It’s full of a lot of information and historical detail about animals and what they mean.
The image itself of the pelican traditionally can range from looking like the actual bird to an elegant swan like creature. I have enjoyed employing this albeit cryptic Christ image in my work for some time. Below are yet two more of the recent monotype, gouache, and collage pieces using him in all his glory.