Creaturely Vision: Animals and Sacred Meaning in the Chiostro Grande of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Tuscany
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The 1498-1508 cloister frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma at the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore outside Siena, Italy, have been noted for their bright colors, ingenious compositions and playful character. Scholars have given little attention, however, to the inclusion of numerous animals into the religious scenes of the life of St. Benedict. This thesis explores the use of those animals and argues through a discussion of the history of animals in Christian theology and Christian art that the cycle's animals have important symbolic, historical and hagiographic purposes that underline and enhance Benedict's role as saint and exemplar for the Monte Oliveto monastic community. It furthermore contends that early modern notions of animals as metaphysical beings capable of supernatural senses and of animals as important signs of moral and theological truths underscore the frescoes and their message. Their inclusion ultimately elevates and intensifies Benedict's saintly efficacy for his order.