This is dedicated to Professor Ceiling Cat Emeritus (not fully retired), AKA Jerry Coyne, as I accepted his challenge to advance his theory — which is his! — that medieval artists were quite simply incapable of drawing cats.
In the middle of last year, inspirited by PCC, I published this article, which appertains to the question; and thence ensued two further, much more curtailed, articles: here and here.
Both PCC and Google offered depictions of medieval cats which were unutterably peculiar. One friend hypothesised that artists hadn’t grasped how to…grasp (!) implements such as paintbrushes or palate knives; another – similarly to me – that it is an unattainable endeavour to persuade a cat to remain immobile; however, I had ultimately posited that these people just didn’t like cats!
Upon further investigation, PCC’s theory is buttressed by excavation into the subject.
Medieval drawing (not drawing; however, perhaps less painful!) tools and techniques
An article published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art posits that medieval drawing invoked myriad styles, including Classical (not here!) and emphasised “pictures of real and imaginary, familiar and exotic animals.” These cats, without doubt, satisfy two of the criteria: imaginary and exotic. The Metropolitan Museum abounds in analyses of medieval drawings, and further asserts that, as integral components of the creative process, said drawings were steps toward the finished products. Well. That most assuredly explains a lot! Or does it?
Painting and drawing apparatus was not unlike contemporary tools; therefore, the use of tempura on a variety of surfaces, including gold leaf and wood, serves not to absolve medieval artists of these detestations. Or does it? Behold this work employing the same media: erm…is that Nero?
Immobile cats…et al
I reiterate that I know from experience it is an unattainable endeavour to persuade a cat to stand motionless. This is the reason I have so few decent photographs of Theo. I challenge anyone to discern any of Theo’s features in this blurry vastness. Aside from his beautiful EYES, of course, Jerry!
I address other animals in medieval art. Check out these dogs! One of these guys appears to be playing the lute with a machete. Can it be equitably hopeless to convince a dog to sit still?
Consider also humans in medieval art. Madonna and Nero stand not alone. Contemplate this behemoth dog towering over a diminutive human; does he not look terrified? I would be! Representation of human features ostensibly confounded some artists as well.
This portrait of a woman and cat presents a semblance of promise. The characterisation of human anatomy also is certainly not worthy of Raphael; the cat palpably came out on top here.
Candle light versus electricity versus daylight
I flirted with the lack of electricity as a rationale; that the insufficient light generated by a candle could account for the numberless deficiencies; however, this position was short-lived thanks to Raphael, who was unphased by drawing by natural or candlelight. Be this as it may, if one is not Raphael, why not just work during the day?
Medieval understanding of perspective…or lack thereof
This is noticeably removed, as evidenced in “Dog Towering Over Man.” Now this. Who is likely to win this battle: the inhabitants of the castle or the humans and horses laying siege to it, who dwarf it? Perhaps not; their enormity will decidedly impede any circumstance of entrance. However, more on topic, behold the horses. They look more like horses than cats look like cats; however, the horse flying over the castle looks about the size of a cat. Am I alone in my bewilderment?
As previously, I have ultimately contemplated the unavoidable determination that these people just didn’t like cats. Or horses. Or dogs. Or children.
Now, here’s THEO!
Nice post! One error: that’s not Theo at the end because that cat has eyes. . . .
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Awwwwww! Poor Theo 😹
And great post as well.
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There probably was a fear of cats as well. Weren’t they considered demons or witches in another form? Perhaps the artists dared not stare at a cat to assess it’s actual features.
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I believe it probably has more to do with the religious vs the secular. To spend time and effort drawing/painting anything that wasn’t to expound the message of god was unnecessary and frowned upon. When your Art is dedicated to god(s) you don’t really care if you can draw a cat, a dog or even a born in sin human very well (and probably don’t try). Obviously, that viewpoint was shifting by the time of the noblewoman and her cat above.