Roosters have a place in art history. We don’t think too much about the cocky bird being something to crow about when it comes to a historical perspective in art but the fact remains that roosters actually have a great deal of symbolic meaning. Mostly I’m going to write about roosters and what they mean in the Christian history of art. I’ve chosen three pieces in art history just to show that artists have been depicting the showy and noisy bird for a couple of thousand years—at least.
Roosters announce danger. We can look out for things that might get in the way of a virtuous life. “In Christian symbolism, the rooster is a familiar Passion symbol. Prior to being arrested by the soldiers, Jesus correctly predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed on the following morning. At the rooster’s crowing, Peter remembered Jesus’ words and went out and wept bitterly. The rooster represents Peter’s denial of Christ and also stands for his remorse and repentance upon hearing the rooster’s crow. Because Peter later became the leader of the early Church, the rooster represents papal vigilance.” (http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/legend01/rooster.htm)
The oldest image I’ve chosen to show you (above left) is a Roman mosaic of a rooster dating back to 200-400 A.D. This was dangerous time for Christians, a time of persecution and hiding. And, of course, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet so visual symbols were important to convey meaning.
In the next painting (middle right) by Melchior de Hondecoater created sometime in the 1600s, the art is complicated and dramatic, a hallmark element of the Baroque style. Baroque art dates from about 1590-1725 and features intense emotions, sensationalism and is closely tied to the Catholic church glorifying the church and its power at that time. The painting I’ve chosen features a dramatic use of roosters full of energy and action. Its symbolic meaning was more clearly evident at that time than it is for us today. But you can rest assured that the use of roosters does have religious meaning, warning viewers to be vigilant against sin.
Finally, how could I resist showing off another Theophile Steinlen image of the Art Nouveau era, my favorite (bottom left). Here the rooster announces an art show and seems to have lost its religious significance, just as the Catholic church lost much of it dominating power by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here the rooster looks to be more of announcer, his colors and shape more important that the symbolism of previous eras in history. Many prominent artists of the day are written on the bill including Steinlen, and Alphonse Mucha, who I will be showing more of in the future.
Roosters crow. They announce the sunrise. The sunrise brings the promise of a clean fresh day, a day full promise. We can choose to do good things with the dawning of a new day. And be vigilant against the force of evil. Now days we see roosters more for their visual appeal, the colors, the strength and vitality of roosters. The fact remains that there is more to roosters in art than immediately meets the eye.