In Hogarth's portrait of the Graham Children, a cat startles a goldfinch by menacingly scrambling with its claws up the back of the chair. Hogarth included the goldfinch, a symbol of resurrection, as Thomas, the seemingly lively baby on the left, died before Hogarth worked on the portrait.
See it in Room 34.
A feline friend plays with a ball of wool in Pintoricchio's Penelope with the Suitors. Penelope was married to the Greek hero Odysseus, who fought in the Trojan war, but during his 20-year absence she was pursued by other men – seen here queuing up for her attention. She vowed that she would only remarry once her weaving was complete, but ensured that it never was by unpicking her daily labour each night.
See it in Room 53.
Domenichino and assistants painted Apollo killing the Cyclops as a trompe l'oeil tapestry with an embroidered border. This is drawn up in the lower right corner to reveal a dwarf chained to a barred window, fruit and a plate with leftovers, some of which have been stolen by a cat.
See it in Room 13.
A cat has made it into the fold of the holy family in The Madonna of the Cat ('La Madonna del Gatto') by Federico Barocci. Cats are not usually found in representations of the holy family. Here the household cat is being teased by an infant Saint John the Baptist (Christ's cousin) who waves a goldfinch in front of it. The goldfinch, a traditional symbol of Christ’s Passion, foretells the baby Christ's future.
An opportunistic cat steals food from a frying pan whilst Nicolaes Maes's Idle Servant snoozes in the middle of preparing a meal. Pots and pans litter the floor, but her mistress shrugs her shoulders with a smile that seems to say, ’what am I to do with her?'
See it in our exhibition, Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age from 22 February 2020.