Medieval Artists Were Really Bad At Drawing Cats

While medieval artists excelled at painting religious scenes and portraits of royalty, cats offered an altogether different challenge. It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

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It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

It looks like the medieval painters never laid eyes on a cat.

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80 Comments

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  1. m. March 8, 2020

    Excellent research, wide variety of examples! Thoroughly Enjoyable post!!!

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  2. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    So much fun! Thank you.

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  3. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    I have met many of these cats though..

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  4. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    very funny. thx

  5. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    Marvelous! Thank you.

  6. Rodrigo March 9, 2020

    #3 is so bad that his gun looks like a rat.

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  7. Marilyn March 9, 2020

    Some of these will now haunt my dreams.

  8. dog March 9, 2020

    Sometimes an artist tries to capture an exact likeness; other times, they try to embody the essence of the subject. To my mind, the medieval artists nailed it.

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  9. sidney wade March 9, 2020

    OMG!!! This is fabulous!!!!

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  10. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    Frankly, I think those monks were hitting the Benedictine when they drew this stuff.

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  11. Anonymous March 9, 2020

    I love these!…… (Note to Rodrigo…. You said “is so bad his gun looks like a rat”….But…. It IS an image of a rat……. These were drawn and painted in Medieval Times.)

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  12. cassiesmom March 9, 2020

    #15… the one with the dog and the blue checkered floor. Even the dog is, like, ‘wtf is that?!’ lolol

  13. Mimi March 10, 2020

    YIKES!

  14. RT March 10, 2020

    Very funny! Obviously more than nine lives!

  15. Miera March 10, 2020

    #8 the guitar looks like a pinapple :D

  16. Anonymous March 10, 2020

    Third to last looked like his face has been squashed

  17. Anonymous March 10, 2020

    I love these! They have life and personality….. ❤️

  18. Anonymous March 10, 2020

    They knew how to draw cats but – In medieval times, the Catholic Church considered cats to be demon spawns of the devil. If an artist drew a cat as soft and cuddly they could be tortured as a heretic. Hence any illustration of cats had to portray them as ugly distorted demons or risk punishment. It was not a good time to be a cat.

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  19. Anonymous March 11, 2020

    Or maybe that’s how cats looked back then…

  20. Anonymous March 11, 2020

    This will help me to overcome my inhibitions when it comes to drawing cats!

  21. Amanda Frost March 11, 2020

    The Middle Ages were not as barbaric as portrayed by some posters. Many credulous people were afraid of cats, including no doubt lower clergy, but educated people no doubt did not believe in evil spirits in cats (or in people). I know of no instance of a person being tortured as a heretic for liking a cat. (I am a medievalist.) Shame on a person who would make such an assertion without proof.

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  22. Amanda Frost March 11, 2020

    And I love these illustrations, made by humble monks in humble cells in monasteries in dangerous places. What imagination!

  23. Anonymous March 13, 2020

    The cream of catdom. The Pope-cat really caught it. And I have never seen a cat-bath before. A new idea for pets are us. That might bwe it. Cats are us in disguise.

  24. ed March 13, 2020

    This whole cat-e-gory suits me fine.

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  25. Patrice Donnelly March 13, 2020

    Wonderful! Awesome drawings, and a wee bit funny, too!

  26. vasiliy March 15, 2020

    None of us were around back then. Maybe that’s what cats really looked like before they prettied themselves up for us modern folk.

  27. Anonymous March 23, 2020

    Who painted the 1st and 5th cat?

  28. Betsy Lenora April 1, 2020

    Catastrophic

  29. Wendy April 1, 2020

    There’s one playing bagpipes!

  30. Hilayr April 1, 2020

    I wonder if … perhaps the artists didn’t ever have much of a chance to get a good look at a cat? (although I take on board the above comment about portraying them as demonic). I believe that the cat population was drastically reduced because of their association with evil, so maybe there weren’t that many around to get a look at? And isn’t that one of the reasons why the rat population flourished? If the plague did come from rat fleas (maybe that is under review at the moment hence not stated as fact) and no cats to catch & kill them … ?

  31. Rosemary Hammer April 1, 2020

    I love these, and I want to see the entire pictures they’re parts of. Is there a way? I think this is a great time to look at medieval work, now that we’re all cloistered.

  32. Anonymous April 1, 2020

    I love these! The cat post would have been funnier to me if it hadn’t made me wonder if they didn’t know what cats looked like because so many were burned along with the “witches”. Looks like a few “evil” cats in these paintings!

  33. Anonymous April 1, 2020

    Well, look at the humans they drew..

  34. Anonymous April 1, 2020

    Judging from the one dog illustrated they hadn’t seen many dogs either.

  35. Anonymous April 1, 2020

    Clearly painted by dog lovers…

  36. Brenda H. Nelson April 1, 2020

    Weird how in many they appear to be using a limner sort of head for the cat, and then just sort of paste a cockeyed humanoid/feline cat face on the head somewhere. The eyes are more human than feline. But there’s some other artistic anthropomorphism going on in the rest of the cats face as well.

  37. Barbara H April 1, 2020

    Really funny!

  38. Ellen Martin April 1, 2020

    Several have lovingly realized fur, several are very sprightly; the medieval artist had different patterns and goals in mind — sometimes to go for the essence regardless of context (like the happy people being killed in the other post) — other times to render a personal encounter (the cats bringing rats home, the cat crouched under bench glaring at dog). The medieval people definitely knew cats were good for their grain storage. And as for affection! One male inspector of anchoresses cells ordered them: “Leove sustren, thou shalt have bot oon kat” — “Beloved sisters, Thou shall have but One Cat” — indicating not only his own ignorance of the operations of nature, but also that he’d found lots of kitties keeping the female hermits company. See also the wonderful early poem “Pangur Ban,” — first line, “I and Pangur Ban my cat, / ‘Tis a like game we are at” (in one translation) — monk compares his search for meaning in scripture to his cat’s search for elusive mice all night in his cell.

  39. Anonymous April 2, 2020

    In Kattenstoet, cats were thrown off the bell tower in the past. Not all things were good for cats in Medieval times.

  40. TomMerryman April 2, 2020

    In #18 I like the look on the cats face who has either just been or is about to be pecked in the ass by a Magpie.

  41. Anonymous April 2, 2020

    And now we have the Cats movie. Just as horrifying.

  42. Carol April 2, 2020

    These are hysterical! I guess they heard about cats, but never really saw one. I pictured Medieval Europe as being awash with cats. I guess not. Many of these are irresistibly charming in their own right.

  43. bJorn April 2, 2020

    If Tracey Emin had done one of these and won a prize, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  44. Lynne s April 2, 2020

    errrr…… do you think they ever saw a cat!!!!!! Or was the cat the spawn of the devil? Hysterical posts – glad I didn’t live back then – I love telling people they’ve got it all wrong!!

  45. Eleanor April 2, 2020

    They were, but i kind of love some of these!

  46. Wendy O. April 2, 2020

    Many of these had very human-looking faces. “Well, I’m painting this cat, but I don’t have a model. I know, I’ll make his face look like my uncle Fred!” Ha!

  47. Phillis Ideal April 2, 2020

    I have known many cats and lived with three-these expressions are not so far fetched. All and all, I recognize these multitude of cat moods.

  48. Anonymous April 3, 2020

    Great idea! Kudos!

  49. Anonymous April 3, 2020

    I have enjoyed looking at Medieval manuscripts but having this themed collection has been a real eye-opener! Thank you for culling and sharing!

  50. Anonymous April 3, 2020

    I love the expression on the cat who is being ridden by the man with the cudgel. It is very WTF

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