Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cats in Art: Annunciation (Lotto)

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 credits Web Gallery of Art.  Annunciation, Lorenzo Lotto, 1534-35, oil on canvas, 65" x 44", held by Museo Civico, Recanti, Italy.

Zuffi's analysis of this unusual painting:

God claps his hand together and the strong, muscular, imperious archangel bursts into the room.  The Virgin Mary is troubled and frightened.  She turns towards us, almost as if she were seeking help.  She evokes our tenderness with her big, dark, wandering eyes, her fragile little hands raised, and her immaculate, carefully ironed clothes, along with the symbols of a life that is suddenly changing--the book on the lectern, the stool with the hourglass on it, the chaste bed with its canopy, the towel, nightcap, and candlestick.

Feeling free from all convention, Lotto abandons the poetic, contemplative tone of many earlier Annuniciations, choosing to represent instead a moment of high drama.  Fundamental to his vision is the darting cat, fleeing with its back arched in the luminous center of the scene: as domestic peace is being shattered, the tabby with the blazing eyes introduces a disturbing, ambiguous note. Lotto captures precisely one of the fits of apparent madness that suddenly invite the placid days of household pussycats, superimposing on his depiction ancient superstitions about a demonic shudder provoked by the intrusion of the divine into everyday life.

With that, the close up of the kitty, who is more than a little spooked by God's handclap and the sudden appearance of an angel:

My thoughts? (I get to do that, since, after all, this is my blog!).  First, I totally agree with Zuffi that this image is way different from others of the era, in introducing the elements of hesitation and unease.  It's as though this is not so much a divine moment as an "Oh sh*t" moment for Mary.

The cat seals the deal by racing across the dead center of the painting that features God, the Virgin Mary, and an angel...yet it's the kitty at center stage, with a facial expression that's more akin to anger and annoyance rather than fear.

Lotto--and I love that name!--must have been a kitty aficionado to have captured this cat's expression so well.  Likewise Lotto must have been a rebel of sorts to have decided to portray the scene as he did, with a cat and ambiguity, rather than the heavenly chorus happily singing hosannas.

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