Item una gabia de calandrí.
The archives of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Valencia preserve thousands of household inventories from the later middle ages, supporting a rich body of scholarship dedicated to material culture in Catalonia. Although the records often begin and conclude with formulaic passages in Latin, the lists of objects that form the body of the inventory were typically written in Catalan. This month's featured object was listed in the post-mortem inventory of a plasterer named Francesc Giner, a citizen of Valencia. Francesc died in February of 1381, and an inventory of his assets was prepared by Pere Aimeric, a merchant, and Francesc Bonet, a painter, also of Valencia, for the benefit of Francesc's widow, Berenguta. The inventory describes numerous kinds of objects, from furniture and clothes to the tools necessary for the manufacture of plaster. It was contributed to the DALME collection by Antonio Belenguer González.
Among the items listed in Francesc's possession were three bird cages. Bird cages are known in the singular as gabia in Latin, Catalan, and Occitan/Provençal. In Italian, the word is typically spelled gabbia. Bird cages described by this term are surprisingly common in the DALME corpus: as of this writing, we have identified a total of over 70 cages listed in forty-five inventories, and doubtless more will be found in inventories published in coming months. The geographic range is impressive: Florence, Genoa, Marseille, Najac (Aveyron, France), Montpellier, and Valencia. Florentines were especially dedicated to their birds; roughly half of the inventories in the Florentine collection contain at least one bird cage. "Gab[b]ia" is a fairly generic term, referring to cages in general, and it is true that we cannot be sure that every reference indicates a cage destined for the use of birds. That said, every reference to a cage that does include further details points exclusively to birds. The birds most commonly associated with cages are chickens, and the object in question might normally be translated in English as a "chicken coop." That contemporaries perceived a distinction between bird cages and chicken coops is suggested by a 1347 inventory from Marseille, where the compiler of the inventory identified "a bird cage" (gabiam avis), and, immediately afterward, "a cage for hens" (gabiam gallinarum). One unusual cage, found in a 1405 Marseille inventory, was called a tristegam psitaci, or a "parrot's cage," one of several references to parrot's cages in the DALME corpus. The Latin word "tristega" literally refers to a dwelling having three stages or levels, suggesting that the fortunate parrot enjoyed a palatial living space far too elaborate to be called a gabia.
Like many of his peers, Francesc Giner kept chickens: the inventory lists three hens and a rooster. But he also kept a more rarefied set of birds, highly unusual in the DALME corpus. The compilers of the inventory, as they moved through the house of the decedent, took note of a number of interesting items, including furniture, clothing, and a spinning wheel (torn). At one point in their perambulations--possibly in the kitchen, considering the fact that a paella and a spit were located nearby--they came across a sequence of three cages next to one another. The first of these was identified as a bird cage made of reed or grass (una gabia de canya). No birds were associated with it, and since the chickens were listed much further on, this is unlikely to have been the chicken coop--unless, of course, the chickens had been let out to scratch for their food. The next was this month's featured object, the lark's cage (una gabia de calandrí). That the calandra lark was especially admired is made clear by the remarks of the seventeenth-century Italian bird enthusiast, Giovanni Pietro Olina (d. ca. 1645). In his work entitled Uccelliera, overo Discorso della natura e proprietà di diversi uccelli, a compilation of previous works by bird fanciers, Olina noted that the calandra lark is among the most esteemed of birds, for it displays many qualities otherwise found singly in other birds. Among them was an exceptional talent for mimicking the sounds of other birds and even kittens. The lark's cage was followed by another designed for a finch (una gabia de cadernera). Though the lark and the finch were not separately identified as items possessed by the plasterer Francesc, it seems very likely that the two birds were present during the compilation of the inventory. Perhaps they were singing cheerfully as the two men undertook their dolorous duty.