The Feline and the Homo-Sapien

It is estimated that cats were domesticated about 12,000 years ago for the practical purpose of protecting the surplus of crops from mice. The cats were delighted by the abundance of prey and the people were delighted by the pest control. However, humans have since developed a closer bond with the species and thus have felt it necessary to depict the cats in the works of art that they create. Cat art, in one form or another, has been around as long as cats have. Over the centuries, the creatures have been imagined as goddess, hunter, companion and thief. It is common to associate the kitty with kitsch, especially in the realm of Web 2.0, however it is evident in this body of work that they have also marked their territory in the avant-garde. Cats, although they can be slightly judgemental, make great subjects for works of art as they can evoke feelings of security and affection, or distress and discomfort. They can create a personal connection for the viewer, whether that connection is pleasant or unpleasant. The Feline and the Homo-Sapien examines the representation of cat-human relationships in objects produced throughout time.

The ancient Egyptian admiration for cats is well-known—and well-documented. Bastet, an Egyptian goddess of love, had the head of a cat. To be convicted of killing a cat in Egypt often meant a death sentence for the offender. They mummified their cats and had cemeteries for them. Ancient Romans held a similar respect for cats and they were seen as a symbol of liberty. In the Far East, cats were valued for the protection they offered treasured manuscripts from rodents.
Cats became demonized in Europe during the Middle Ages. They were seen by many as being affiliated with witches and the devil, and many were killed in an effort to ward off evil. In this representation of The Fall of Man, the cat in the lower left-hand corner is Satan in disguise, reminding the viewer not to enjoy what they should condemn.
It was not until the mid-1600s that the public image of cats began to be celebrated in the West.
It is apparent here that cats gained their reputation back during this point in time. This kitten is being celebrated and surrounded by humans as if it were a newborn baby.
Tournee du Chat Noir was a bustling nightclub that was part artist salon, part rowdy music hall. The artist, Théophile Steinlen, illustrated a cat in the promotional poster as he had a great affection for the species. This image became iconic of the stereotypical black cat.
It was as popular during the late 19th-early 20th century to anthropomorphize cats as it is today. Cats doing human things is an entertaining thought, although this representation is regarded unethical today.
This representation of cat-human relationships needs few words. A depiction of a gentleman who has decidedly been caught at ease and at home, cat on lap, is not a typical image of the time, which is what makes it so spectacular.
This ceramic piece pulls on the heart strings and evokes that security and affection we often associate with fat cats.
Selma Gurbuz' abstract rendering of two black cats demonstrates the semiotics of cat art and how iconic and simply recognizable their physical form can be.
It is evident that in Western contemporary culture, cats are superstars.
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