The Birth of Isabetta



Medieval Kitties

Posted by Isabetta on June 5, 2011

Since it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I’m curled up in a chair in the sunroom with my cat curled up between me and my laptop, I thought I’d share some funny, cute and sometimes bizarre medieval depictions of cats.

Probably illuminated manuscripts are our best source of cats in medieval art.

We see them historiated initials

This grey tabby reminds me of my Scruffy






While I have seen orangish-red cats, I have never seen a green cat. Honestly these cats remind me more of iguanas.






Kitties also filled the margins. Anyone who knows about medieval illuminated manuscripts knows that they are a treasure trove of mundane life, as well as the fantastical.

Here we see a cat observing the musician. Why this guy is in his brais, I have no idea. But the cat looks quite pleased with himself.





This cat, well, he reminds me of my giant grey cat. I think both of them need to go on diets. Although I bet both would disagree.






Not sure what the story is with this poor cat. A giant mouse is riding him like a horse, while some kind of bird is tied to the mouse (a la falcon?). Somehow I don’t think this is going to end well for either the mouse nor the bird.





In the lower right hand corner in an elaborate margin we find another grey cat. I’m starting to wonder if that was the main color of cats in medieval Europe… They’re all tabbies too!





Oh, it’s a white one! Maybe only cats in nunneries were white? Also, I love how he’s playing with the spindle. As a friend of mine who spins knows well, cats LOVE spindles. Twirling string! ZOMG! A part of me wants to buy one and a skein of wool specifically as a cat toy. But then, as any cat lover would know, it wouldn’t be an interesting toy if it was for them.




This may be the most realistic cat I’ve found yet in a manuscript. But he doesn’t seem very inclined to catch that rat. So maybe not that realistic.



And this fella is from the Luttrell Psalter. He’s very cute, gently holding onto his plump brown mouse.






Cats weren’t just relegated to the margins in books either.

OK, this cat. All I can say is WTF? I get that the embroiderers of the Bayeux Tapestry may never have seen a lion and that’s why the lions in it look so strange. But a cat? Also, that round thing, it looks suspiciously like the Host. But why on earth a cat would be watching the Host, I have no earthly idea.




I just loved the curled up kitty. And cats keeping food in a cage? And baking bread (at least that’s what I’m assuming that is).





Two sets of illustrations on this page. I think the cat up top is a mama cat holding a kitten. The ones on the bottom, I’m not convinced they aren’t ferrets.





I love the vibrant color in this one. And the orange cat. OK, so the rat is eating that round bread. Maybe the communion bread would be taken over by mice so the cats protect it? (I have no clue what that is, it still looks like the Host to me!)




Cats on gold leaf. Again with the rats and white round bread. And a ferret?





And here we have a black cat stalking a poor mouse. Well, it’s obvious from all the cat and mice illustrations that cats were seen as mousers.





And yet more cat and mouse games. But a blue cat? That’s not Russian Blue either.





No mice yet here. Just a mama being followed by her kitten. Those who speak cattail will know mama is happy and baby is apprehensive.





Also, we can see cats interactions with humans in a greater context from some illustrations.

This baker has a cat watching his shop. Would make sense that a baker would keep a cat – all that grain to attract mice. And all those warm fires to curl up by.





I highly suspect that this illustration is from the same book as this pasta one. The similarities between the roof and ceiling is just too… similar to be coincidence.





If you look carefully, the girl in the green dress has a cat in her lap. A cat having her belly rubbed, it would appear. So, people who think cats were no more than a working animal, I doubt a high bred maiden would be portrayed sitting in a court with a working animal in her lap. THAT cat is a pet.




The cat also made it onto Noah’s Ark. I personally find it very amusing that the cat is in one window while the dog is in the other.





You see a lot of stories featuring cats in medieval books. I wish I could figure out what legend this was. I’ve found two different illustrations, from apparently the 12th century, showing a cat with a candle on the king’s table.











When books began to be printed following the invention of the Gutenberg Press, instead of colorful illustrations, woodblock prints became popular.

Flee, mice, flee! The Cat of Doom is upon you. (also, who has EVER seen a cat continue hunting once she’s caught a bite to eat? This has to be from a fairy tale).





This kitty is in meatloaf pose. I can’t find out for sure, but this one screams “Albrecht Dürer.” It’s German by the lady’s hat. As for the gentleman’s hat. It has quite the plumage.





And in more formal settings:

A young girl works on a wreath while her cat joins her at a window.





This fine upstanding German lady has both her cat and her dog with her. The poor dog looks like it’s wincing for a paw of claws across the nose. Hopefully those two were playful companions. Also, as an aside, I <3 her sleeves.




And while I can’t think of a masterpiece of his with a cat in it…

we have a series of studies on cats from, yup you guessed it, Leonardo da Vinci. I think I’ve seen each and every one of those poses in my own cats.





More Italian. Maiolica plate/bowl with a cat with small bunny ears.






And lastly, just to show they weren’t just drawn and painted, a cat in a tapestry. Playing with a spindle as the one above. That poor spindle, it’s getting the dreaded back paw kicks.





Most of these I have stumbled upon by accident and have no idea where they are from, so if you know, please let me know.

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