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Federico Barocci, The Madonna of the Cat ('La Madonna del Gatto')

Key facts
Full title The Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and the Infant Baptist ('La Madonna del Gatto')
Artist Federico Barocci
Artist dates about 1533 - 1612
Date made probably about 1575
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 112.7 × 92.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Revd Holwell Carr, 1831
Inventory number NG29
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Madonna of the Cat ('La Madonna del Gatto')
Federico Barocci

Barocci represents the holy family in the charming domestic setting of a bedchamber in a Renaissance palace. The infant Christ turns from feeding at his mother’s breast to observe his cousin, John the Baptist, who is teasing the household cat with a goldfinch. The bird is a traditional symbol of the Passion (Christ’s torture and crucifixion) because of the legend that it acquired its red head from a drop of blood that fell as it drew a thorn from Christ’s brow on his way to the Crucifixion.

Saint Joseph leans forward to observe the game, smiling benevolently. The Virgin Mary looks down at Christ and points to the cat, which is ready to pounce. The warmth of the gathering disguises the picture’s more serious devotional message – the anticipation of Christ’s future sacrifice.

Barocci painted the picture for Antonio Brancaleoni, Count of Piobbico. John the Baptist’s reed cross and the cat may relate to Brancaleoni’s coat of arms of a rampant lion below a cross.

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