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A Journey Through the History of Cat Depictions

Cats have been a source of inspiration for artists throughout history, with their unique beauty and enigmatic nature serving as a popular subject for various art forms. The earliest known depictions of cats date back to ancient Egypt1, where they were revered as sacred animals and often featured in hieroglyphics and tomb paintings.

In Western art, cats first began to appear in paintings during the Renaissance period, where they were frequently depicted in domestic settings, playing with their owners or stalking mice. Artists during this time were interested in the naturalistic representation of cats, capturing their movements and expressions with great detail. This interest in capturing the essence of feline behavior continued into the 18th and 19th centuries, where artists like Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin and Louis-Eugène Lambert portrayed cats as playful and mischievous creatures, engaging in playful activities like batting at butterflies or playing with balls of yarn.

Beyond paintings, cats have also been the subject of various sculptures and figurines. In ancient Egypt, cat sculptures were often placed in homes to provide protection2, and even today, cat figurines continue to be popular decorative items. The art of creating cat sculptures and figurines has also evolved over time, with contemporary artists experimenting with various materials and styles. These include ceramic figurines, glass sculptures, and metal artworks, among others. In the modern era, cats continue to inspire artists in a wide range of styles and media. Cats have been and continue to be an enduring subject of fascination for artists around the world, inspiring works of art that range from the whimsical to the profound.

Items were collected from the following institutions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, The Smithsonian Institution, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Korea 

Controlled Vocabulary:

Subject: Library of Congress: Subject Headings- to facilitate the uniform access and retrieval of items in a collection. 

Spatial Coverage (Place): The Getty: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names - to consistently define a place of origin and geographic information.

Creator: The Getty: Union List of Artist Names - to link an authoritative database to the name of the artist. 

Dublin Core Elements:

Identifier: The accession number provided by the specific museum’s collection.

Title: Title of the item provided by the museum.

Date: Date provided by the museum collection.

Description: Physical description provided by the museum.

Medium: The material used to make the object.

Provenance: The previous owners of the object, provided by the museum’s collection.

Rights: the online accessibility of each object, copyright information.

Relation: Reference to a related resource.

Spatial Coverage: The location the item originated from.

Subject: Covers what this item is and the essence of the item.

Type: The nature of the resource

Format: The phsyical medium of the item

Publisher: Who made the resource available


1 Richman-Abdou, K. (2019, February 4). Cats in art: How our feline friends have inspired artists for centuries. My Modern Met. 
2 Nastyuk, E. (2019, January 1). Cat symbolism in art. Arthive.