Medieval Cat Paintings

Medieval Cat Paintings – The Best Renaissance Paintings of Cats

Cats have been depicted in our art for many centuries. These domesticated felines offer humans endless hours of company and amusement. Today, we will be specifically looking at medieval paintings of cats and Renaissance paintings of cats.



Medieval and Renaissance Cat Paintings

The Medieval period occurred during what is known as the Dark Ages. This was followed by the age of artistic revolution and the enlightenment known as the Renaissance period. Even during this massive transitional period in human civilization, artists were compelled to add cats to their paintings.

However, one quick glance at these Renaissance and Medieval cat paintings makes one wonder if some of the artists had even seen a cat before.

The internet is full of memes comprising lists of Medieval and Renaissance paintings of cats that highlight how strangely cats were portrayed during that period. But why were Renaissance and Medieval paintings of cats so strange? Animals were seen to be the mirror of human culture throughout the Medieval period. Even though animals were thought to be unintelligent entities, they were bestowed human aspects and attributes. Dogs, for instance, were praised for being devoted friends who were bred to defend the home and aid in hunting.

Famous Medieval Cat PaintingsThe Bachelor Party (1939) by Louis Wain; Louis Wain, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cats though? Absolutely not. According to experts, cats are pretty wild. Cats, unlike dogs, cannot be taught to be obedient and loyal. According to one source, they will go to whoever feeds them food. During the Dark Ages, cats were also seen as symbols of witchcraft and Paganism by the Catholic Church, which did little to improve their popularity with the masses. That’s probably why cats received such odd artistic treatment.

Not all Medieval and Renaissance cat paintings were weird-looking, though, and many renowned artists also produced Medieval and Renaissance paintings of cats.


Portrait of a Young Lady Holding a Cat (c. 1525) by Antonio D’Ubertino Verdi

ArtistAntonio D’Ubertino Verdi (1499 – 1572)
Date Completedc. 1525
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions (cm)53 x 44
Current LocationChristie’s Auction House, New York, USA

Antonio D’Ubertino Verdi was a Renaissance Italian painter whose artwork is characterized by the Florentine Mannerist style. It is believed that he came from a family that comprised around eight artists. This painting features an affluent-looking young woman holding a cat. Unlike many cat paintings from this period, this cat has been portrayed in a realistic and life-like manner.

While the young lady stares directly at the viewer, the cat seems to be characteristically preoccupied with something else in the room.

Medieval Cat Paintings to KnowPortrait of a Young Lady Holding a Cat (c. 1525) by Antonio D’Ubertino Verdi; Francesco Ubertini called Bacchiacca, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Recanati Annunciation (1534) by Lorenzo Lotto

ArtistLorenzo Lotto (1480 – 1556)
Date Completed1534
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)166 x 114
Current LocationMuseo Civico Villa Colloredo Mels, Recanati, Italy

Lotto employed expressive motions and somewhat undersized heads in his style. The baldachin bed, the shelf with a miniature still life painting, the small window, the hourglass, and a terrified cat running all demonstrate the influence of Northern European art.

The image portrays a bedroom in which an Annunciation occurs in an unexpected manner: the angel appears on the right, bearing a white flower.

Renaissance Paintings of CatsRecanati Annunciation (1534) by Lorenzo Lotto; Lorenzo Lotto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

His right arm is gesturing to God, who has appeared in the form of a cloud and is blessing Mary. Mary is seen on the left staring at the viewer and lifting her hands in amazement. The cat runs away from the apparition, its sense of curiosity overridden by its fear.


Portrait of Cleophea Krieg von Bellikon (1538) by Hans Asper

ArtistHans Asper (1499 – 1571)
Date Completed1538
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)77 x 61
Current LocationKunsthaus Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

This artwork depicts a wealthy young woman, which is evident in the jewelry and clothing she is wearing. Her bonnet is also an indication that she is most likely a married woman. She has been portrayed with her pet cat and dog.

The dog appears to be snarling at the cat sitting on her lap, while the cat seems bemused by the dog’s antics – swiping at the dog’s face with one of its paws.

Renaissance Cat PaintingsPortrait of Cleophea Krieg von Bellikon (1538) by Hans Asper; Hans Asper, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The Wedding at Cana (1563) by Paolo Veronese

ArtistPaolo Veronese (1528 – 1588)
Date Completed1563
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)677 x 990
Current LocationLouvre Museum, Paris, France

This is a figurative artwork of the biblical tale of the Wedding at Cana, in which Jesus magically turns water into wine. The large-format oil artwork, produced in the late Renaissance Mannerist style, embodies the artistic goal of compositional equilibrium, as practiced by the masters such as Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo.

It is such a busy scene that one might even miss the cat at the bottom right corner, playing with one of the jugs.

Top Medieval Cat PaintingsThe Wedding at Cana (1563) by Paolo Veronese; Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


A Visit to the Wet Nurse (1572) by Marten van Cleve

ArtistMarten van Cleve (1527 – 1577)
Date Completed1572
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions (cm)23 x 31
Current LocationUnknown

In this painting, a woman has just given birth to a child. The wet nurse can be seen in the middle of the picture, with the baby being attended to by one of her assistants beside her. At a table, a group of people can be seen celebrating the birth, as children and animals roam around the room.

A cat is sitting in the baby’s cradle, blissfully ignoring the chaos around it.

Notable Renaissance Paintings of CatsA Visit to the Wet Nurse (1572) by Marten van Cleve; Marten van Cleve, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The Artist Painting, Surrounded by his Family (1584) by Otto van Veen

ArtistOtto van Veen (1556 – 1629)
Date Completed1584
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)176 x 250
Current LocationMusée du Louvre, Paris, France

Otto van Veen was a designer, artist, and humanist who worked in Brussels and Antwerp between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. As the title of the painting suggests, the artist is portrayed as surrounded by members of his family. Included in the picture is a white cat in the foreground.

The cat has been portrayed in the usual unflattering manner in which they often present themselves – with their rear end facing the viewer.

Characteristics of Medieval Paintings of CatsThe Artist Painting, Surrounded by his Family (1584) by Otto van Veen; Otto van Veen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The Earl of Southampton (1603) by John de Critz

ArtistJohn de Critz (1551 – 1642)
Date Completed1603
MediumOil painting
Dimensions (cm)45 x 60
Current LocationPrivate collection

Wriothesley, as seen in the work below, was the only son of the 2nd Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. Shakespeare’s two narrative pieces were dedicated to Wriothesley, who is sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ Fair Youth”.

The artwork depicts the Earl seated, with an ungloved hand upon his lap, and the gloved hand holding the other glove.

History of Medieval Cat PaintingsThe Earl of Southampton (1603) by John de Critz; Attributed to John de Critz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While the Earl is portrayed in a regal and serious manner in this painting, it is the expression of the cat that makes this artwork worth examining. In the way only a cat can, it manages to look both curious and slightly annoyed at the same time.


Charity (1627) by Joachim Wtewael

ArtistJoachim Wtewael (1566 – 1638)
Date Completed1627
MediumOil on oak wood
Dimensions (cm)83 x 73
Current LocationPrivate collection

Wtewael was among the few Dutch painters who did not forsake mannerism after the early 1600s, and his work shows no discernible stylistic progression. Existing paintings span from the early 1590s through 1628 and vary greatly in support, size, and subject matter.

Although the majority of his works depict biblical and mythical themes, he also created portraits and genre settings.

Popular Renaissance Cat PaintingsCharity (1627) by Joachim Wtewael; Joachim Wtewael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Wtewael was inspired stylistically by a variety of schools, ranging from the Tuscan and Venetian to Dutch school. In this painting, a woman is seated, trying to feed three young toddlers. One of the children is sneakily feeding a cat from his bowl.


The Prayer without End (c. 1656) by Nicolaes Maes

ArtistNicolaes Maes (1634 – 1693)
Date Completedc. 1656
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions134 x 113
Current LocationRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Before eating her supper, an elderly woman prays fervently. She isn’t distracted by the needy cat pulling eagerly on the tablecloth. The old woman’s virtue is her self-control and feeling of obligation to God. Nicolaes Maes, like his tutor Rembrandt, uses limited lighting to draw attention to the essence of the image.

Just like it would in real life, the cat has been portrayed as oblivious to the seriousness of the moment, hanging from the tablecloth playfully, most likely trying to get to the food.

Medieval Paintings of CatsThe Prayer without End (c. 1656) by Nicolaes Maes; Nicolaes Maes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


A Cat Watching Rabbits and a Fowl (1656) by David de Coninck

ArtistDavid de Coninck (1636 – 1699)
Date Completed1656
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)74 x 99
Current LocationVictoria Art Gallery, Somerset, England

David de Coninck, an Antwerp-born painter, spent the majority of his professional life in Rome. He was a well-known animal and still-life painter, with rabbits being his favorite subject. Only approximately a tenth of his identifiable paintings are signed by him currently. In other instances, his signature may have been purposefully left out to pass off his works as the product of more famous painters.

Here we can see a cat watching over some chickens and rabbits. Knowing cats, this would probably end up not being an entirely passive experience.

Style of Medieval Cat PaintingsA Cat Watching Rabbits and a Fowl (1656) by David de Coninck; David de Coninck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


That wraps up our look at Renaissance and Medieval cat paintings. Although they weren’t the main focus of the artworks, many Renaissance and Medieval paintings of cats featured the felines in a more subtle way – incorporating them into the backgrounds. Despite not being the feature character, they often steal the show with their playful and curious mannerisms.




Frequently Asked Questions


Why Did Artists Produce Medieval Cat Paintings?

Artists usually depict the things they see in everyday life. Cats have been part of human existence for countless centuries. Therefore, it is no wonder that these lovable pets often appear in old artworks from that era.


What Do Felines Represent in Renaissance Cat Paintings?

In the Dark Ages, cats were often linked with Paganism and witchcraft. However, this view softened somewhat in the Renaissance period. Although early depictions of cats were rather strange-looking, Renaissance artists portrayed them in a more life-like manner.