'Hönstavlan' ('Picturesque Chickens') – Strängnäs Ö, Sweden - Atlas Obscura

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'Hönstavlan' ('Picturesque Chickens')

Gripsholm Castle
Strängnäs Ö, Sweden

This strange portrait of six ladies with chicken bodies commemorates a count's dirty habits. 


Being rich in the 18th century often included commissioning art for your large mansion. These could be portraits, still life, landscapes, artistic representations of historical events, or chickens with heads of your court ladies.

The painting was commissioned by Count Karl Tessin, who collected and commissioned art. The painting depicts six hens (single ladies) with a rooster in the background, which was meant to be Tessin himself. This painting was a private one, intended to be seen only by a narrow circle of people. Today the closest comparison might be pornography collection, but less erotic. Only slightly so however, as Tessin had a reputation as a peeping tom who allegedly got inspired after seeing the court ladies “in a sufficiently natural state, while they were to dress”.

This connection was immortalized by a French verse that Tessin added to the portrait, where a cheerful rooster innocently sees his chickens in such a state. The verse reads: “Quel est le coq maudit qui ne chanteroit pas, Poules en voyant vos traits et vos appas.” (“Who is the accursed rooster that would not crow, Hens seeing your features and your charms.”) Tessin gave the painting to himself as a Christmas present in 1747.

The painting belongs to the collection of Sweden’s Nationalmuseum and can be viewed in the museum at Gripsholm Castle.

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