Comment on Cat Castration 1531

This is a painting of a male cat being castrated (what we usually call neutering) in 1531. I would like to comment on it for a bit of amusement. Although the whole grizzly process looks far from amusing for the poor cat. It was painted by Girolamo Romani (c. 1485 – c. 1566). It is a fresco decoration of Castello del Buoncosiglio in Trento. This is a castle in Northern Italy.

Cat castration 1531
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Cat castration 1531

Actually, having looked at this painting in more detail I have decided that it is not going to be amusing commenting on it. The first point, it seems, is that cats were being deliberately neutered almost 500 years ago. Did they have similar ideas about the feral cat problem in Italy in the 16th century? I would think not. So I am not sure of the reason behind neutering a male cat.

Secondly, there appears to be a man doing the castration. He couldn’t have been a veterinarian because they weren’t in existence at that time. Perhaps he was a barber or a some such craftsman who did the odd castration! Meow, poor cat. Actually he looks like a butcher. He is wearing a white cap and apron as if to catch the blood. Ouch.

Two men are holding down the cat without any protection. Unwise I would suggest. Looking at the way they are doing it, it seems very forceful so the cat would have resisted aggressively. One of the legs is being held down by someone else.

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The next important observation is that the person doing the castration is pointing an instrument (a knife?) at the area of the cat’s penis. This is not how you neuter a cat. You remove the testicles, which are at the end of the cat and not the underside of the cat.

Clearly there is no anesthetic but that probably wouldn’t have mattered that much as it is not that painful and cats recover very fast from it.

The cat’s owner appears to be the women top left in the painting. She looks distraught, and rightly so! She is concerned for her cat. The others are interested spectators.

As for the cat, poor fellow, he appears to be a grey/brown tabby cat as you can just see banding on his leg. The undersides of this cat are lighter than the flanks and back.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this painting is that the event in the painting actually took place because I would have thought people of that era gave no thought to neutering their male cats.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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10 Responses

  1. Rose says:

    Holding a cat down that way would probably result in his death wouldn’t it?Because he would struggle and jerk with being captive and with the pain and at the very least dislocate his shoulder joints and anyway no way would the one doing the surgery be able to get the knife exactly where it needed to be twice surely.
    What a disgusting horrible mind that artist must have had and I hope he painted no more like this.I don’t understand either how he coud do a whole painting in the lenght of time the surgery took?

    • Michael says:

      I find it a very odd subject matter for a fresco on the wall of room in a castle. I think Marc made a good point. There may be some religious connection. This must have been a rare animal surgical operation. The “surgeon” appears to be operating on the cat’s penis. There is something nasty about this.

  2. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    This is a horrible painting and castration of a male cat IS painful, a slit has to be made with a sharp scalpel in each testicle pouch and the testicle and cord pulled right out, I don’t believe the painting is from a genuine castration, it’s more the artist’s sick mind! A cat would take more holding down than that.
    I’ve seen thousands of cats castrated by various vets and not one of them would lie a cat on his back, they lie them on their side and lift the tail to do the job.
    I can’t imagine anyone wanting a painting like this on their wall, it’s so crude.
    Yes I expect people will look back on us in hundreds of years time as cruel crude people who use, abuse, eat and torture animals.
    That’s if the human race still exists of course and in my opinion it would be better if it didn’t.

  3. Leah says:

    I think its horrific sorry thats all I can say 🙁

    • Michael says:

      Brutally crude as life seems to have been in the 16th century. It’s an eye opener. In 500 years time people will look back at 2012 and think, “What the heck were those barbarians doing?”

  4. Marc says:

    It’s a bit scary to be honest. I guess it must be a cat because of the stripey legs. I wonder why they did that – probably to modify the behaviour? Is that a possible reason. Prevent spraying or yeowling in the middle of the night. Or is there some sort of religious significance? ITs not a very nice thing to have on the wall. Thats why I think it may be religious – just because that would be the only possible reason something so unpleasant might be on the wall.

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