The Mermaid and the Holy-Water Font in the Middle Ages: a difficult combination

Simona Moretti

Abstract


This paper investigates the presence of the siren on the holy-water font in the Middle Ages. The study was carried out on the preserved and known cases, all grouped chronologically (12th century) and territorially (Northern Italy). This is the piece located in the Romanesque church of San Giorgio in Ganaceto (near Modena), the stoup in the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta in Rubbiano, in the municipality of Montefiorino (in the Modenese Apennines), and the lustral pile in the baptistery of cathedral of Cremona. The study, which makes use of the precedents and does not discuss the chronology and the attribution already subject of wide debate by other scholars, has instead re-examined the iconography, coming to hypothesize that it is not always possible to identify the subjects sculpted with the sirens, as has been done in the past. On the other hand, it seems appropriate to recognize more monstrous beings, such as the lamia or the harpy, perhaps to enhance the salvific qualities of holy water. Moreover on the baptismal fonts the siren appears as a little exploited character, but the investigation in this context is still to be carried out in a systematic way.


Keywords


Siren, mermaid, harpy, lamia, holy-water font, font, Middle Ages

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