The cock or rooster occupies a position in Chagall's personal mythology similar to that of the Minotaur in Picasso's private symbolism. In both cases the artist has projected himself into non-human form, and in this process has transformed the designated creature into a personal avatar, which the artist is then free to use as a surrogate in his paintings. Picasso's Minotaur is half-man, half-bull; Chagall's rooster, as seen in the present painting, possesses a head that is Janus-faced, bird on one side, and man on the other. For each artist the respective animal is an acknowledged symbol of virility, and by extension, an appropriate representative of the artists' creative abilities.
While Picasso's Minotaur is drawn from classical mythology, and possesses a terrifying aspect that stems from both its appearance and the legend surrounding it, Chagall's rooster has far more humble barnyard origins and its familiar domesticated character inspires more congeniality than awe. "The fowlyard, too, has its place in Chagall's recollections of his childhood. That is why poultry are always part of the Russian scenes painted during his first Paris period. In the twenties impressions of French farmyards and work on [La Fontaine's] Fables lend the motif a new topicality" (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 381).
Chagall had previously identified more closely with four-legged farm animals, such as the donkey or the goat. By the late 1920s the cock had assumed a dominant position in Chagall's bestiary. "As a symbol, the cock has an entirely different and far stranger nature than the quadrupeds, which, despite their four feet, are more closely related to man. For thousands of years it has played a part in religious rites as the embodiment of the forces of sun and fire. This symbolic meaning still lingers on in Chagall's work,
where the cock represents elementary spiritual power" (ibid., pp. 380-381).
Indeed, the great rooster rules as the all-powerful solar force in the present painting. The huge bird illuminates this vibrant, blue Mediterranean land- and seascape, while an eclipse of the actual disk of the sun is in progress, turning it blue, and multiple crescent moons shine in the distance. The rooster's tail has burst into a huge spray of flowers, demonstrating its life-giving powers.