Though the Victorians were the first to collect birdcages, the hobby of bird-keeping and the craft of cage-making date back to the ancient Greeks. In virtually every culture, the bird has been a metaphor for the human soul, and the birdcage the corporeal prison of the soul. The years 1750 to 1850 witnessed the most fanciful and lavish birdcage designs, and during this period, exotic breeds of birds were kept as symbols of refinement and status.
This object, a rare combination of a birdcage and fishbowl, from The Netherlands in the early nineteenth century, expresses the eclectic tendencies of this period. The square birdcage serves as the base for a spherical, double-walled, blown-glass fishbowl. The roof of the wooden box is retractable, creating an opening into the inverted inner glass bowl. Ostensibly, the bird could fly up into this globe and appear to be swimming with the fish. The birdcage, made of mahogany, features wire details on the windows. The fishbowl is decorated with a polychrome enameled landscape scene of a castle-like building atop a rocky island, with boats and sailing ships at sea. One ship is flying a red, white, and blue Dutch flag.