Cats in Renaissance Art Continued….. 

Relying heavily upon classical Greek models, the 1504 engraving, Adam and Eve by the German, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), captures Eve right at the moment she accepts the apple of knowledge from the serpent. Surrounding both Adam and Eve are a variety of animals that symbolize differing human temperaments.  The cat represents the trait of easily angered or irritated; the rabbit as hopeful; the ox as calm; and the elk as melancholy.  However, since this picture portrays the instant of original sin, the cat and mouse are also symbols of men and women’s sexual lust, while the parrot represents love.  The cat’s tail touches the back of Eve’s heel, associating it with feminine fertility and temptation, while Adam seems to be almost stepping on the mouse’s tail in a sort of cat and mouse yin and yang. 

cat in renaissance art

Adam and Eve
Albrecht Durer

In a much later version, a voluptuous Adam and Eve happily involved in the sensualities of life, and totally unconcerned with the consequences of their actions, highlight Henrik Golthius’s, The Fall of Man (1616).  Much like Albrecht Dürer’s sterner faced Adam and Eve, each animal in the painting holds some symbolic significance, and the cat once again takes center stage to prominently represent lust and desire.

cat in fall of man

The Fall of Man
Hendrik Goltzius
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Domenico Ghirlandaio specifically painted the Last Supper (1480), for Dominican Monks, who must not be forgotten for their part as inquisition judges, and undoubtedly caused the deaths of many so called witches and their loving cats.  The fresco, located in San Marco, Florence, shows Christ and the apostles sitting on one side of a long banquet table. While Judas, separated from all that is good, sits opposite Christ on a three legged stool, perhaps representative of the trinity, a lone cat, symbolic of Judas’s treason and the influence of evil, intently watches to his right.

cat in Domenico Ghirlandaio Last Supper

The Last Supper
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Fresco, 1480
Monastery San Marco, Florence

The greatest of the Renaissance artists, Leonardo DaVinci, found the cat an intriguing subject that he captured in many of his sketches and paintings.  For example, a cat is present in the 1480 sketch, Virgin and Child with Cat,

Da Vinci Virgin with child and cat

Sketch of Virgin with Child and Cat
Leonard Da Vinci
British Museum


and cats prominently exhibit various poses in his 1513 sketch of twenty cats.  From DaVinci’s many depictions of cats, and a quote attributed to him which states, “Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece,” we can assume that the great Renaissance man both respected and liked cats very much.


Study Sheet with Cats Leornardo Da Vinci

Study Sheet with Cats
Leonardo Da Vinci
Pen in Black Chalk on Paper
Royal Library, Windsor

Want to know more about cats in art, history and literature? Then this is the book for you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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