Peasant Woman With A Cat by David Ryckaert III

An interesting painting dated 1667 but the date is incorrect because the painter lived 1616-1661. It is said to have been painted between and

It appears to me that the peasant lady is feeding her cat in the exact same way that she would feed a baby at that time or from an earlier time. The cat is wrapped up in swaddling clothes. I have placed the painting next to one of the Madonna and Child.

Peasant woman with a cat

What do we make of the painting? I would very much doubt that this is a literal representation although it gives the impression that it should be.

We can see that it almost mirrors the Madonna and Child painting over 300 years earlier. I wonder if there is a religious context. The swaddling clothes are very strange. They make a statement that the cat is being treated as a child. Spoon feeding supports that. There appears to be milk on the spoon.

This is a larger version:

Peasant woman with a cat by David Ryckaert III

David Ryckaert III was a Flemish painter born and brought up in Antwerp. He painted a range of different subjects including religious pictures. This may give a clue as to why the peasant woman is feeding her cat like Jesus. Is it Jesus? It is very strange to see Jesus depicted as a black and white domestic cat.

See more: Cats in Paintings.

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Peasant Woman With A Cat by David Ryckaert III — 13 Comments

  1. What a horrible picture!
    I honestly don’t know how some artists got to be rich and famous, I’m no art critic and can’t paint myself, but some of the pictures we see look like a child has been let loose with canvas and paints lol

    • “Bizarre” comes to mind, which is why it caught my attention. Not sure what is going on in this painting but if it is a literal depiction it is sad, very sad for the cat.

      • I see what you mean but I think it’s more complex. Feeding a sick cat or even giving KMR to kittens is easier said than done. One good way to do it is to gently wrap them up in a towel. This is quite possible a kitten who has lost it’s mother and is being helped by a human.

        Given the time when it was painted I rather like the fact of the compassion. I understand Ruth in the context of present day however – which is that cats are cat, they aren’t humans and shouldn’t be treated as such necessarily. Cats have their own terms and even if some of those a human in nature they will always be cats.

        But I think this picture is actually not conceptual and that iti is based on reality. Imagine in those days feeding a kitten to keep it alive. This would be a very special experience – one worthy of being painted. As an artist who searches through life for essence and emotion this moment would surely be a special one. Bottle feeding kittens is a very special experience to those not used to it. Fascinating and pure and some human – animal boundaries are broken when a human is keeping an animal alive. (I don’t agree with this terminology particularly because humans are animals nbut you know what I mean).

        The kitten is very big to be given replacement food, but even if reality has been stretched in this painting I think it’s actually very plain and simple. Not forgetting it was painted when it was. Life was so different then. Although I understand everybody’s initial reaction I think the picture is simply a celebration of love between human and cat – and the reason it’s weird is because it was made in the 1600s. Many peoples faces and manerisms in paintings and art from those days are strange and creepy. Artists might have been trying to infuse emotion into the image with exaggerated expression. The result looks weird to us now but back then when people probably were very hard and unemotional on the exterior it was probably one of the things which made art fascinating. The painting could make light of and bring out things which people couldn’t talk about back then.

        I could go on….. 🙂

        • Enlightening comment Marc. Thanks a lot. You could well be correct – probably are as you have a knowledge of art that I don’t. The painting is about a sick cat and a kind lady doing her best to nurture him/her back to good health in the ways of the time. If it is not conceptual then that is probably the way it was.

          I concluded that is was conceptual, as you say, because of the similarity with the Madonna painting but I’m probably wrong.

          • Yes – well one of the most striking similarities with this little recording of reality is it’s similarity between a mother holding her child. And its even more striking if you consider how people considered animals back then. I’ve seen old photos of children holding cats like babies and giving them ‘medicine’ and so on – that is more what we are objecting to. I think this is different. And lets not forget that art was not conceptual back then. An artist was a person who recorded reality in paintings and sculpture. Anything conceptual or abstract back then inside the 4 walls of a picture frame would not have been acceptable. The abstract remained entirely in the category of crafts and patterns and so on.

        • Thanks Marc, I still don’t like the painting but I can see it in a different light after your explanation 🙂 ‘Compassion towards a sick cat’

            • Thank you – I’m very happy to be back and to be slowly getting back to normal. I have read all the articles but I just didn’t have time to comment like I normally do. I pretty much always read. I was reading PoC for a good year or more before I made any comments. 🙂

          • Ruth I don’t like it either. It just struck me that the young cat/kitten was wrapped in a blanket just as a bottle fed kitten would be. Holding a cat in a towel or blanket is a very practical way to manage everything and I just thought that given the year it probably was a painting of reality.

            But yes the expression is disturbing – like so many expressions of peoples in paintings from those days. They are just creepy – almost clown like, exaggerated expression which has more to do with the style and context of art at the time. …no I don’t like the painting though. It’s interesting to analyze because its so unusual in subject matter.

            • The cat has a slight hint of the child about his/her expression. However, I have come around to your way of thinking. People these days treat cats as children so nothing has changed and in those days swaddling clothes were normal so it does make sense. You see babies in swaddling in Russian hospitals all lined up after birth. Old fashioned.

  2. I guess the concept is that the woman views the cat as her “baby”. Poor cat, wrapped up like a mummy and being force fed!

  3. I don’t like it at all the cat looks quite hopeless and even if Marc is right about it being a sick cat it was a horrible picture to paint.

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