Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cats in Art: Cat Tended to by an Old Woman (Teniers)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Image credit here. Click on image to enlarge.

Cat Tended to by an Old Woman (or Cat Having its Fleas Removed by an Old Woman), David Teniers the Younger, c. 1640, oil on canvas, held in a private collection.

Zuffi tells us:

In a poor, humble setting typical of Teniers' paintings, an elderly woman removes fleas from a cat's fur. In Dutch painting of the period, this operation was considered a symbol of morality and cleanliness, as if eliminating parasites from the body also indicated a desire to remove sins from the heart.  In Teniers' case, however, it carries a very different meaning; taking advantage of the cat's enforced immobility in the old woman's grasp, a line of mice passes by unmolested.

This painting is another example of the same work being known under different titles.  Zuffi seems to be the only one calling it Cat Having Its Fleas Removed by an Old Woman. 

I have run across this nomenclature dichotomy numerous times as I research my Cats in Art series of Sunday posts.  I figure it comes from the fact that while artists do tend to sign their work, thereby establishing authorship, works of art rarely have their titles affixed to the work.  Thus if the artist does not leave any sort of written list of works, subsequent "experts" may come up with their own best fit titles...some of which will differ.


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