Leonardo da Vinci’s
Leonardo da Vinci’s lolcats
Why Leonardo would have aced the internet cat craze.
In some of the last years of his life, Leonardo sat down, perhaps at his desk, perhaps on the street, took out his pencil and absent-mindedly sketched a cat. The resulting drawing is of not just one, but over a dozen of them, grooming, playing and fighting each other, with a couple of stalking lions thrown into the mix and to top it all, a slinky little dragon sinuously twisting backwards and baring its teeth. Evidently he appreciated them for their personalities and characteristics: not such a jump from cat doodles to the ubiquity of cats on social media today.
In the week that the latest blockbuster exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, The Mechanics of Genius, opens to great fanfare at the Science Museum, a second, much smaller show is opening in Newcastle. The Laing Gallery’s exhibition showcases just ten of Leonardo’s best drawings from the extensive collections at Windsor, cats included. Whereas the Science Museum showcases the extraordinary mechanical genius of this remarkable artist, these drawings offers a more playful insight into Leonardo’s mind.
Cats were a commonplace sight in medieval and early modern houses, kept as pets to curb the mouse population. They sometimes left quite unexpected traces, such as the medieval moggy who marched over the still wet pages of a manuscript, much to the consternation of its scribe. And clearly they featured in more of an esoteric manner too: there are countless depictions of cats within medieval manuscripts, as featured in Nicole Eddy’s fabulous post on the “Lolcats of the Middle Ages”.
So it’s not so surprising to find Leonardo caught in the act of doodling. It seems as though Leonardo’s cats are drawn from life, attesting to his often commented on interest in first-hand observation. He lets his imagination run riot in the process of turning his playful cats into a writhing dragon.
What makes his drawing so charming is that ultimately, what he is interested in here is nothing more significant than the playing cats. He draws cats on other occasions, such as in some studies for the Virgin and child (with cat), but there the cat is drawn as an attribute, becoming a subsidiary accessory to the telling of the story. In the cat doodle, the purpose of the drawing is nothing other than to record Leonardo’s delight in the carefully observed play and movement of his feline companions.
There’s a rich history of associating cats with imagination and creativity, as well as more negative connotations with heresy and wilfulness. This is especially true of medieval imagery. Cats, with their noted reputation for autonomy and independence, provide a bridge between the unruly and uncontrollable chaos of untamed nature, and the quiet, submissive, orderly domesticity of a well-ruled household. A cat can function both as a symbol for obedience (and is often depicted as such, for example as a companion to devout women) as well as a sign of heresy, in the shape of a witch’s familiar.
So cats are not inherently good or evil. Instead they appear to reflect the moral character of the household they interact with: in accordance with their mercurial, quirky nature. In this light, they seem the perfect companion for a creative and scholarly owner.
Fast forward 500 years and perhaps it doesn’t seem so surprising that social media has become the perfect vehicle for displaying this connection. While Salvador Dali needed to take long walks with his pet ocelot Babou to generate interest in his unusual status pet, Twitter and Facebook offer platforms for often quite witty plays on the link between cats and creativity.
My favourite example of this is the #AcademicsWithCats Twitter feed, which led to the annual “Academics with Cats awards”. I like to think that Leonardo would have entered with gusto. He definitely would have won. With a cat dressed as a dragon.
Gabriele Neher, Assistant Professor of History of Art, University of Nottingham
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
There is important news from the United States today. Sheila Liaugminas reports that, “finally”, the United States Congress and the State Department have acknowledged that the violence directed against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities by ISIS is genocide.
On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) to that effect unanimously. It took Secretary of State John Kerry until the March 17 deadline set by Congress last year to follow suit. His staff were still reviewing the evidence. Don’t they read the newspaper?
Sheila, who has been interviewing people all week about this concludes:
Congressman Fortenberry told me what he’s been saying to everyone listening lately, that this is a threat to civilization itself. As of today, the U.S. has risen to join a growing international coalition of voices and forces that can, finally, do something to stop the spread of that threat, reverse it, and protect innocent people and the existence of whole populations. What can be done is newly on the table. What will be done comes next.
Still in the Middle East, Marcus Roberts concludes his informative highlights from a Pew survey of Israel’s religiously divided society (Jews and Arabs both seem to worry about economic issues as much as about violence); and Christopher Szabo reports the (rather positive) comments of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres on peace in the region.
There’s lots more good reading in the other articles too. Enjoy your weekend!
|Laurus: the history of a man’s soul|
Michael Kirke | FEATURES | 18 March 2016
A surprising new Russian novel recommends 'the way of the saints'.
|US House of Representatives, State Dept, acknowledge genocide|
Sheila Liaugminas | SHEILA REPORTS | 18 March 2016
Finally. This is a big deal.
|Girls Just Want to Be Born|
Marie Smith | FEATURES | 18 March 2016
The ongoing gendercide of sex selective abortion.
|It’s about autonomy, not pain|
Cristina Alarcon | CAREFUL! | 18 March 2016
A Canadian euthanasia trail-blazer has openly admitted that pain is not behind most requests for death.
|An Israeli view of prospects for peace|
Christopher Szabo | FEATURES | 18 March 2016
Views on peace in the Middle East and South Africa by former Israeli PM Shimon Peres
|Israel’s Religiously Divided Society: Part II|
Marcus Roberts | DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY | 18 March 2016
A second look at the Pew Research Centre's Report into Israelis' political views
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