Leonardo da Vinci’s Study of Cat Movements and Positions is interesting on two levels. Firstly there is the obvious Leonardo genius in drawing, with which we are so familiar and which can seen in this almost typical drawing. He always seemed to draw things on scraps of paper and there is a casual air about his drawings, which when combined with the awesome talent makes a fascinating image.
Study of Cat Movements and Positions 1517-1518
He was probably the most talented, gifted person ever born. The second interest to me, at least, is the cats depicted in this drawing. Far from me to criticise but his cats sometimes look a bit like dogs or half way between a cat and a dog. One animal in the center of the work looks more like a dragon or could some of these animals be Ermine (aka weasel or stoat), a small wild animal that has been tamed judging by a well known painting by Leonado da Vinci called “Lady with an Ermine” (1483-1490) in which a lady holds a pet Ermine?
Also a good number of the cats in this study are very aggressive. This either interested Leonardo or in fact the feral and/or domestic cats that he saw and knew were pretty aggressive, which wouldn’t surprise me as life was hard for a cat at that time (or are these stoats and stoats can be pretty aggressive). There is one cat (top left) that has hair on end with an arched back in defensive mode. If this is meant to be a realistic depiction it cannot be said to be good. The fur of this cat looks like that of a LaPerm (curly haired cat). LaPerms didn’t formally exist at that time but it is quite possible that curly haired mixed breed cats were around. Perhaps the hair was not meant to look curly but it does have a feel of curlinesss. One obvious point is that all the cats at the time would have been mixed-breed, non-purebred, cats as the cat fancy only started in the late 1800s in England.
Another factor that leads me to believe that Leonardo was drawing from memory and being guided by thoughts of an Ermine is the way he has drawn the ears. All cats’ ears point forward, while the ears of the animals in this study are too small and point to the side.
The one cat that looks very much like a cat is bottom right looking away. The ears are pricked forward and they are the correct size albeit small by modern cat fancy standards. It looks then as if Leonardo was genuinely practicing to draw cats and got it wrong a lot of the time! Leonardo lived April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519 in Italy and later in France. He had vast talents covering science, art and music.