Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: The Cat in Art by Stefano Zuffi

The Cat in Art is both full of surprises and hauntingly familiar, as cats play and pounce and sleep and purr their way through 170 great art masterpieces from the ancient world to the present. What cats represent to us in life, they bring to art: elegance and grace; domestic tranquility; symbols of sensuality and mischievousness.

Here are paintings by Van Eyck, Raphael, Leonardo, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Chardin, Gainsborough, Manet, Renoir, Bonnard, Gauguin, Matisse, Balthus, Picasso, Warhol, and many others. Sometimes the cats are the stars of the work, and sometimes they are working their magic from the corners of rooms-in which case both the whole work and a detail showing the cat are illustrated.

Stefano Zuffi's charming text tells the reader what it all means, from the feline goddesses of the ancients, to the devilish cats of the Middle Ages, to the indispensable companions of our own time.

From the library.

This was certainly not light reading, but still rather enjoyable. Its almost academic feel fell quite firmly under my "three page" non-fiction rule where I force myself to slog through at least three pages before I take a break. Thankfully, this was made easier here due to the plethora of graphics.

There were lots of great quotes:

The cat dozing on an armchair is a lovable, soothing presence, almost a symbol of domestic peace.

Moreover, as thinkers have known for millenia, to stroke a cat absent-mindedly while writing, pondering, or reading is a formidable aid to concentration.

A cat walking through a library is never a nuisance, there are even those who insist that cats, which are endowed with ineffably good taste, would never curl up on a mediocre book.

The book, while extremely unwieldy and thick, was helpfully divided into eight sections: Antiquity, The Middle Ages, A Feline Renaissance, The Baroque Cat, From the Enlightenment to Romanticism, Romantic and Impressionistic Cats, The Modern Cat, and The Cat Possessed.

This one gets three stars. I don't do art really. Visits to the Met always left me rather underwhelmed. That said, I slogged through this solely because it was, as the title says, about cats in art. Despite the academic tone it was remarkably readable. Of course, most of the commentary of the symbolism of cats as political commentaries went way over my head, but it was still rather enjoyable and most certainly educational. My babies also quite enjoyed it as they rushed to sit on the book every time I cracked it open - which significantly lengthened the time it took me to read it!

★★☆☆ = Liked It


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