The History of the Cat in Medieval Paintings:

From literature the cat sprang onto Medieval European canvases depicted as a force of evil and chaos, a mouse catcher, or simply as a disinterested spectator.  In the 1475 painting Pilate Washes his Hands, a white cat lies to the side of Pilate perhaps an indication of the influence of evil as Pilate sentences Christ to death.


Pilate Washes his Hands, 1475-1500 Institute Reallen Kunde, history of the cat

Pilate Washes his Hands
Institute Reallen Kunde


In the 1480 painting Girl Making a Garland by Hans Suess Von Kulmbach, a girl sits in a window frame making a garland.  The sash says “forget me not” while a white cat sits in the opposite blackened window frame disinterestedly watching her. 



In another work from the same year, anonymously painted in the style of the Venetian school, entitled Birth of the Virgin, a tranquil domestic scene reveals a woman just having given birth sitting up in a bed ready to accept some eggs offered to her by St. Anne.  Another woman in the forefront of the painting has just washed and swaddled the new born Mary, while a dark colored cat walks alongside the bed, having just entered the room from the open door on the right of the picture. The cat could be a representation of the usual house cat, but its color makes us think that it may forebode some sort of doom. It could, of course, simply be a reference to fertility.

Birth of the Virgin Anonymous 1480 Venetian School, history of the cat

Birth of the Virgin
Venetian School


In the 15th century painting by Israhel Van Meckenem, The Spinner and the Visitor, a male visitor holds his sword in a suggestive manner as a cat, a symbol of temptation, looks at us.  The painting is a representation of solicitation, the woman a prostitute. 

The Spinner and the Visitor 15th Century Israhel Van Meckenem, history of the cat

The Spinner and the Visitor
15th Century
Israhel Van Meckenem


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled 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



Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Laura Vocelle

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: