Medieval Cat Karma


Sunde White illustrates her essay about medieval cat art

If you Google the words “medieval cats” a bunch of insane images of seemingly badly drawn cats from the Middle Ages will pop up.  These cats will often have human noses, gargoyle paws, Cheshire grins, deranged body shapes and crazy eyes.  Initially you might think that artists just weren’t that good back then and cats can be kind of hard to draw, I guess.  But then if you look at cats that Chinese artists drew contemporaneously during the Ming Dynasty, you can see that artists could draw beautiful cats back then.  Or look at the elegant images and carvings of cats from the Ancient Egyptians and you can see those artists rocked at creating cats too.  So why in the world were medieval artists so bad at depicting cats??

Cat art from Ming Dynasty

All art from about 1200AD to 1700AD needs to be viewed through the lens of the Roman Catholic Church.  Pretty much all the art that the public saw during that time was commissioned by the church.  Since almost everyone was illiterate it was the church’s way of spreading the word of the bible far and wide to people that couldn’t read it for themselves.  The church also used art to spread their ideas about nature, spirituality and human behavior and to reinforce their religious doctrines.

During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church was trying to rid Europe of any “Pagan” religions and at the same time a rebellion was happening within the Church.  Priests, theologists and some Christians rejected the supreme authority of the Pope and disagreed with many of their practices.  That group eventually split from the Roman Catholic Church and became Protestants.

So the Catholic Church wanted to use art to keep as many people in their Church as they could.  They didn’t need any more rebellions, trouble makers or independent thinkers.  And there is no animal more independent, surly and nonconforming than the cat.  The Church didn’t want people getting any inspiration from the cantankerous, free minded felines and so they began depicting them in art as evil devils that were total weirdos that were full of sin.

And it worked! People started to think that cats represented sin and were evil so they must be killed in the cruelest of ways.  I’ll spare you the details but there was a lot of fire and torture involved.  Belgium created The Cat Festival in order to mass murder as many cats as possible every year and France had an actual Cat Massacre where they killed all the cats they could find for years.

Joke’s on all the cat killers though because in the late 1300’s a great plague spread throughout Europe.  It was called the Black Plague and it was spread by the fleas that lived on all the rats that cats would normally be eating.  Whoops!  There were no more cats so…

The moral of this story is, don’t fuck with cats or else their spirits will curse you for hundreds of years.