THE CAT IN EARLY MODERN PERIOD ART
The Renaissance, which ushered in a rebirth of classical thought, first started in Italy and then spread to the whole of Europe. Renaissance artists such as Bosch, Dürer, Ghirlandaio, DaVinci and many others produced exquisite paintings that included the cat as a symbol of domesticity, fertility-lust, treachery and evil. Most often cats found their place in religious paintings, but towards the end of the century, they also became the pampered companions of women in portraits and necessary additions to realistic domestic scenes.
In Hieronymous Bosch’s (1450-1516) The Garden of Earthly Delights, a cat carries off a rat in its mouth at the bottom of the triptych’s left panel, which depicts heaven.
In the right wing panel of the triptych, The Temptation of St. Anthony, the saint, a hermit that was said to be constantly harassed by demons, is in meditation; a cat, while trying to grab a fish, hisses at a nearby naked woman in a bush.
Women’s licentious†, evil nature is symbolized by the clawed feet, horns and the snake shaped train of her dress. St. Anthony’s, and perhaps our only salvation, is Christ directing our attention to his own crucifixion (Grössinger, 1997, p. 1).
† It was in the 15th century that French words such as la chatte, le chat, le mine and even the English pussy cat started to be used as slang terms for female genitalia. A proverb of the time states, “He who takes good care of cats will have a pretty wife.” (Brenner, 1999)