Martin Schongauer was a prolific engraver, producing a large number of works on religious themes. This type of devotional representation enjoyed great success in the 15th century across all social strata, since the engraving process and the growing use of printing presses enabled these works to be disseminated very widely.
Schongauer’s Virgin and Child with a Parrot testifies to the important Flemish influence on Rhenish artists. The composition seems to be draw its inspiration directly from the prototypes created by Flemish primitives, such as Dieric Bouts. As this artist had done, Schongauer places the Virgin in front of a cloth of honour and includes a window in the wall opening onto a landscape. The Infant Jesus is seated on a ornamental cushion which seems to project outward from the work into the viewer’s space. He holds a pear in His right hand, considered as an antidote to deadly poisons, while the parrot, symbolising eternal life or the soul, perches on His left hand.
Schongauer’s monogrammed initials (MS) are clearly featured in the lower centre of the engraving. This is a valuable indication both for attribution purposes and in dating the engraving, since Schongauer only used the letter “M” with its “legs” perpendicular to the baseline early in his career, in the 1470s.