Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cats in Art: The Alchemist's Laboratory (Stradano)

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

Image credit Web Gallery of Art, The Alchemist's Laboratory, Giovanni Stradano (or Stradanus), 1570, oil on canvas (or slate), 46" x 29", held by the Studio of Francesco I, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

Zuffi's analysis: 

In a workshop bursting with stoves, alembics, pots, and instruments, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco I, dressed an an alchemist, is busily stirring a green liquid in a pan on the stove.  Conspicuous at the very center of this crowded composition is an enormous, crouching cat, observing the scene intently with dilated pupils: no other animal could have represented the "alchemical value" of the experiment.  The epitome of a nocturnal creature, the cat was associated with such experiments, traditionally conducted at night in collusion with the moon, which appeared to have an influence on the animal's power of sight.  Whereas for the Egyptians the cat represented the moon and philosophical Mercury, alchemists appropriated the cat as a symbol of the experiment itself.

I like this kitty.  Tucked away yet central to the image, Stradano captures so well the cat's facial expression of watchful interest, with an overtone of "I could be ready to bolt if I have to."  The cat thinks it's in charge, because no insecure kitty would hang around in the midst of all that action in the lab.

Note that Zuffi and the image info on the Web Gallery of Art differ in a couple things: he spells the name "Stradano" vice "Stradanus" (although that may be just a trivial variation in the Italian language).  Also Zuffi states that the substrate is canvas vice slate.  

Minor differences, to be sure, but these point out what I have found these past few years researching my Cats in Art series: there is no single authoritative source for art information.  

For example, artists often did not title their works, leaving others to assign names that frequently differed; many artists did multiple versions of the same subject, all with the same title; and many books or web sites that purport to be "The Complete Works of xxxxx" have big holes in them.  You get the idea--at times it's kinda like detective work.

But fun detective work!

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