FAITH, MEMORY, AND BARNYARD FOWL

Elizabeth Rose

Within the treasury of the Basilica di San Giovanni Battista at Monza, in northern Italy, is an object unlike anything else that has survived from the medieval period: a golden statue of a hen, surrounded by her seven chicks, all placidly pecking grain from a large disk. Due to discrepancies in published reports and the limited information available, the material composition does not provide decisive conclusions. However, the iconography of a hen and chicks can be traced through diverse media, from art objects to theological tracts, dating from the late Antique to the Early Modern era. The repeated appearance of analogous figurative formulae points to the most likely intended significance of the sculpture: an allegory for the maternal shelter found within the Christian fold.Furthermore, exploring the object’s afterlife provides likely sources for the hen’s centuries-old yet historically unfounded association with the Theodelinda and her tomb. An emblematic object of the Basilica’s treasury, it was absorbed into the burgeoning local cult of the first Catholic Lombard queen while falling naturally into eschatological patterns deeply ingrained in local imagination…PDF

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