15 votes

Why medieval cats look like… that

5 comments

  1. [4]
    balooga
    Link
    It's an interesting topic with some good example pics for reference. I'm not really convinced by its explanation though. I doubt there was any kind of consensus in the "art world" of the time that...

    It's an interesting topic with some good example pics for reference. I'm not really convinced by its explanation though. I doubt there was any kind of consensus in the "art world" of the time that cats should be drawn in a weird way because reasons.

    Medieval depictions of all living things tend to be pretty terrible. It's not just cats. Seems more likely to me that this is just the result of a combination of factors:

    • No photos or decent existing artwork to use for reference
    • Cats are notoriously resistant to sitting still for a portrait
    • Pre-renaissance art techniques were nascent and underdeveloped in general
    • The materials used were cruder that what became available later, which probably didn't help
    • I'm a dog person so pretty ignorant about the history of cats, but I assume their breeding has followed a similar trajectory: today we have many beautiful breeds that have been cultivated by enthusiasts for generations, but hundreds of years ago they were much less differentiated and mongrely, and probably did in fact look weird compared to what we're familiar with

    Also, were cats as common to find among human living spaces back then as they are now, or were they more typically feral? Often medieval art struggled to depict the exotic or unfamiliar, like lions or hippopotami. Old illustrated bestiaries are good for a laugh, in the age of the ubiquitous 4K video documentary. If cats were more frequently encountered wild than domestic, they would've suffered in the same way.

    3 votes
    1. Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      Cats have been domesticated and pets for thousands of years. Perhaps interestingly, their method of domestication is up for debate and may have differed starkly from dogs. Cats may have literally...

      were cats as common to find among human living spaces back then as they are now, or were they more typically feral?

      Cats have been domesticated and pets for thousands of years. Perhaps interestingly, their method of domestication is up for debate and may have differed starkly from dogs. Cats may have literally domesticated themselves, lending credence to the idea that you don't own a cat as a pet, but rather the cat chooses you as it's owner.

      4 votes
    2. whbboyd
      Link Parent
      The wild ancestor of the modern domestic cat still exists (it's the African wildcat), and looks exactly like a ticked tabby domestic. It's possible that domestic cats diverged from that appearance...

      today we have many beautiful breeds that have been cultivated by enthusiasts for generations, but hundreds of years ago they were much less differentiated and mongrely, and probably did in fact look weird compared to what we're familiar with

      The wild ancestor of the modern domestic cat still exists (it's the African wildcat), and looks exactly like a ticked tabby domestic. It's possible that domestic cats diverged from that appearance in the Middle Ages and have since returned to it, or that African wildcats have changed appearance significantly in the past few thousand years, but both scenarios seems very unlikely.

      3 votes
    3. hungariantoast
      Link Parent
      Regarding your last point about breeding: Actually, interestingly enough, the single common ancestor of all domestic, natural cat breeds today, the African wildcat, is practically...

      Regarding your last point about breeding:

      Actually, interestingly enough, the single common ancestor of all domestic, natural cat breeds today, the African wildcat, is practically indistinguishable from domestic felines.

      So ancient cats, the very first domestic cats even, would have been surprisingly familiar to us.

      Unfortunately, evidence for when, where, or how the natural cat breeds developed is sparse, at best. Even the Romans did a fairly poor job of leaving evidence of specific cat breeds behind (though cats were not very popular in Rome until around 200 CE).

      One could suspect though that cat breeds developed and diverged rather quickly. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the natural breeds today were present two thousand years ago.

      Overall, the point to take away from this is that cats have hardly changed at all since their early domestication ten thousand years ago.

      2 votes
  2. Sand
    Link
    Maybe people just weren't good at drawing cats. I can't draw cats either.

    Maybe people just weren't good at drawing cats. I can't draw cats either.