THE HISTORY OF THE CAT IN THE MIDDLE AGES (PART 6)

Cats in Books of Hours:

The Books of Hours were another source of devotional literature, which included psalms, a calendar of the church feasts and other religious writings. In the 14th century, these reached their height of popularity becoming even more common than Psalters.  Usually written in Latin, cats and mice amongst a myriad of other subjects and themes elaborately decorated their pages.  

1320-30SEEnglandBookofHoursHarley6563F.72Catinatower, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Cat in a Tower
1320-30 SE England Book of Hours
Harley 6563 F.72
Source: British Library

In an English Book of Hours dating from 1320-30 a cat stands at the top of a tower, while two rats try to climb up its sides.  In another drawing in the same book a cat plays a rebec

1320-30SEEnglandBookofHoursHarley6563F.72Catplayingarebec,cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Cat Playing a Rebec
1320-30
SE England Book of Hours
Harley 6563 F.72
Source: British Library

In the German Maastricht Book of Hours, dating to around 1400, a cat is pictured in a snail shell.

Cat in a Snail Shell 1400's Maastricht Book of Hours Stowe17f.185 Source: BritishLibrary, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Cat in a Snail Shell
1400’s Maastricht Book of Hours
Stowe17 f.185
Source: British Library

 

The Book of Hours of Charlotte of Savoy, queen consort of Louis XI 1420-25, contains many illustrations of cats. A dog chases a cat in the margin on one page, on another, a white cat holds a grey mouse, while yet another cat is even cleaning itself  with a strikingly red tongue.

 

Dog Chases a Cat 1420-1425 Hours of Charlotte of Savoy Queen Consort of LouisXI Paris MSM.1004 fol.36vd Source: P. Morgan Library, New York, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Dog Chases a Cat
1420-1425
Hours of Charlotte of Savoy Queen Consort of Louis XI Paris
MSM.1004 fol.36vd
Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

 

 

White Cat Holds a Grey Mouse 1420-1425 MSM.1004 fol.85r Source: P. Morgan Library, New York, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

White Cat Holds a Grey Mouse
1420-1425
Hours of Charlotte of Savory
MSM.1004 fol.85r Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

 

 

Cat Licks Itself 1420-1425 Hours of Charlotte of Savoy MSM 1004 fol.172r Source: P. Morgan Library, New York, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Cat Licks Itself
1420-1425
Hours of Charlotte of Savoy
MSM 1004 fol.172r
Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

In the Book of Hours of Rome, a cat plays a musical instrument.

Cat Playing a Bagpipe 1460 Book of Hours for use of Rome Hours of theVirgin office of the Dead Paris MSM.0282 fol.133v. Source: P. Morgan Library, New York, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Cat Playing a Bagpipe
1460
Book of Hours for use of Rome -Hours of the Virgin Office of the Dead
Paris MSM.0282 fol.133v.
Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

In another  from Rouen, France, (1470) a jester rides a bridled cat.

 

Jester Riding a Cat 1470 Book of Hours Rouen, France MSM167 fol.84r. Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

Jester Riding a Cat
1470
Book of Hours Rouen, France
MSM167 fol.84r. Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

 

In the Da Costa Book of Hours (1515), a cat sits as a member of the family in the midst of a peaceful home where a fire roars and a table is laden with food.

DaCosta Book of Hours Bruges, Belgium 1515 Probably made for Portuguese Saa family of Porto MSM.399 fol.2v Source: P. Morgan Library, New York, cats in books of hours, medieval cats

Da Costa Book of Hours Bruges, Belgium 1515
Probably made for Portuguese Saa family of Porto MSM.399 fol.2v Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

 

From a Book of Hours from Bruges (1531) we see a cat set back in the center of the painting underneath light streaming from a dove positioned directly above it.  The dove, a symbol of peace and love, shines its light down upon the potentially evil cat. The idea of above and below, heaven and earth, pervades the picture, while the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary are highlighted in the foreground. 

Angel Gabriel, Virgin Mary and Cat Between 1531 Book of Hours Bruge,Belgium MSM.0451 fol.7v. Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

Angel Gabriel, Virgin Mary and Cat Between
1531
Book of Hours Bruges,Belgium
MSM.0451 fol.7v.
Source: P. Morgan Library, New York

 

Two pages in a French Book of Hours from the 15th century, have depictions of a cat in the company of a monkey.  On the first page, a monkey holds a cat on its lap while feeding it milk through a horn.  On the second, a monkey churns butter, while a cat drinks milk from a bowl. According to a fable, the Sun and Moon took turns creating all life.  The Sun created the Lion, and the Moon created the cat.  When the Moon created the Monkey, all the stars laughed at such a strange animal. The insulted Moon thus cast a spell to cause eternal hatred between the monkey and the cat and the cat and mouse (Van Vechten, 1921). Even so, here the monkey appears benevolent as it nurtures the cat.  

 


†† A Medieval stringed instrument with a pear shaped body resembling a violin.

REFERENCES

Van Vechten, Carl. (1921). The tiger in the house. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Lovely photos!