Categories: Cats in Art

The Anthropomorphism of Wild Cats and Domestic Cats

I consistently see the Anthropomorphism of wild cats and domestic cats in old drawings and paintings. Anthropomorphism (try and spell that!) is the attribution of human characteristics to animals etc. as you probably know. And these are not cartoon cats or an attempt to have a joke as they come from a serious work.

There is both a fun and serious side to this. The fun side first! Tell me if you agree that in these pictures of three of the big cats you see the face of a person and the body of a big cat.

The work comes from Pantologia. A new (cabinet) cyclopædia, by J.M. Good, O. Gregory, and N …By John Mason Good, Olinthus Gilbert Gregory 1819.

Above is the male lion. He looks both wise and alpha male. Something of a politician in the face don’t you think? Or a senior executive of a large business. Perhaps the East India Company. Or a Brigadier in the army in India during the time of the British Empire.

Below is a female. This must have been drawn by a man who classically in those days considered the women a lesser creature. This drawing was made 99 years before women got the vote in the UK. This tigress looks gentle and a bit confused actually! Dangerous ground here.

Now what about this leopard below. He (I am sure it is a he) is looking quizzically at something. The eyes are wide and the face hugely human like.

In the tiger above, this face for me is once again human. This gentleman has side whiskers and is no doubt an important fellow!

I think this anthropomorphism of wild cats and domestic cats comes from, firstly, our lack of knowledge of these animals at that time almost 200 years ago and a perhaps an inflated sense of our importance (arrogance, I think, actually, if we are honest).

Which tells us how significantly we have impacted upon them mainly through uncontrolled human population growth in destroying their habitat and exploiting them.

We have gone from not knowing much about wildcats to practically exterminating the most glorious animal on the planet, the courageous tiger.

The tiger is revered and feared. We love it and we kill it. I look at conservation with a certain amount of consternation. The tiger is courageous and vulnerable. It belongs to the world and not us. I feel sad about the tiger and about our treatment of it. The tiger is the world’s favourite animal other than ourselves! Man’s (and I mean the male of the human species) arrogance, fear and desperation has lead us to persecute this most beautiful fighter. A wild cat at the top of the tree. A cat that can defeat the lion in battle (I say!). What happened?

We cannot live with the tiger because it threatens us as the top predator. We fear it. We still don’t understand it. What we fear we kill.

I think this painting shows a cat with a slightly human face:

You can see the full painting and story here: Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr.

From anthropomorphism of wild cats and domestic cats to Cats in Paintings

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The Anthropomorphism of Wild Cats and Domestic Cats

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Oct 20, 2009 amusing
by: kathy

What an amusing story and pictures.

Oct 20, 2009 Something more
by: Michael

Do these drawings tell us something about ourselves? I feel they do. Thanks Finn for your comment.

Oct 20, 2009 Human faces – human qualities?
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

You’re right, Michael – these drawings surely shows humanlike faces. The artist probably had never seen the animals, but that can’t be the full explanation.

Humans have always tried to attribute our own “qualities” to wild animals. If the coyote is so cowardly, surely it deserves nothing more than being killed. Same with the cruel wolves.
Lions and tigers are perceived as noble animals, so they deserve a noble death being shot in an eye to eye duel. Only the great white hunter will carry a rifle though…

I don’t mean to talk politics here, but when similar labels have been put on ethnic groups, it has often resulted in genocide.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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