Image credit Metropolitan Museum of Art, Portrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, Francisco Goya Y Lucientes, 1788, oil on canvas, 50" x 40", held by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The cat in the left--a female, judging by the three colored coat--has eyes that glitter with yearning. The tabby on the right is more muted, while the black one in the background is almost invisible, except for the two yellow "lamps" focused on its prey. It is difficult to arrive at a definitive interpretation of Goya;s famous painting, which is thick with symbolic and even Christological hints. What is certain is that in the artist's incisive work, dense with meaning, the cat always has negative connotations, linked to evil and the demonic.
I personally think Zuffi has dropped the ball on this one. While I almost always find his analysis to be spot on, in this case, it's like he has just phoned it in, saying, "The cat is evil, as usual." And I find the magpie's trust to be fascinating--I mean, there are three kitties right over there, and the bird seems totally unconcerned. Maybe the takeaway is that trust can be found in some strange, unexpected places.
I also found the museum's website to contain some interesting information. First off, their quick analysis:
The sitter is the son of the Count and Countess of Altamira. Outfitted in a splendid red costume, he is shown playing with a pet magpie (which holds the painter's calling card in its beak), a cage full of finches, and three wide-eyed cats. In Christian art birds frequently symbolize the soul, and in Baroque art caged birds are symbolic of innocence. Goya may have intended this portrait as an illustration of the frail boundaries that separate the child's world from the forces of evil or as a commentary on the fleeting nature of innocence and youth.
But what I really found interesting was the fact that this image is currently not on display. Not on display? WTF???
They must have plenty of art in their vaults to have the luxury of keeping this one under wraps. One can only hope that they trot it out real soon.