The idea of the cat meme or cute kitten video on YouTube is nothing new. People have always adored and recorded their cats lives. In ancient Egypt they even went as far as creating a cat cult, worshiping and mummifying their remains.
While cat owners know their pet’s daily activities and ability for unconditional love, it might be surprising for people to discover that cats are one of the most depicted animals on Medieval manuscripts. Maybe, it’s their sly attitude, persistent nature or their calming influence that makes them popular figures.
It is perhaps some of these very traits that encouraged scribes to use them as a comment on individual characters in the courtly and religious life of the times.
Cats could equally be used as a metaphor for a particular aspect of religious doctrine or belief that
the patron either supported of ridiculed. This way comment could be made without directly pointing a finger.
A portrait of the bishop as a sly tomcat, the local lord depicted as the cruel moggy or a cat simply on the page as a symbol of stealth.
The commissioning of a manuscript was not a cheap affair but it afforded the buyer the chance to record their own thoughts, feelings and political aspirations, sometimes in a concealed manner.
There are a number of bagpipe playing felines, which would seemingly allure to their caterwauling and even more showing them as great hunters catching birds and mice. While it could be the owners wish to include a humours image of a much loved family pet, it is equally probable that they illustrate some allegiance or grievance.
The decorative borders, marginalia and gold leafed initials were filled with fanciful animals, mythical beasts and hybrid human-animals.
Entwined, the way cats do around a persons legs, you’ll see them amongst the foliage and flourishes of the page, ready to pounce are the many cute, crazy and scary images of the humble pussy cat.
The Gothic Library – watercolor and ink, 21 cm x 29 cm (For Sale)
“The Gothic Library, a mysterious, musty, place of books, tomes and manuscripts. Here, squirreled away are ancient texts, dark secrets and damning admissions. More revealing stories are recorded on the shelves of the cellar below the house. Locked away in heavy chests, behind iron bound doors, lit by the flickering light of a candle.”
Painting the library
This watercolor painting features a barrel arched basement with a set of steps leading up to the library. The sides are decorated with leafy foliage, reminiscent of earlier Byzantine works, and the background continues the gold leaf effect theme.
The Liatorp bookcase is lined with heavily bound, stylised, 14th century books, one, open and abandoned lies on the Stockholm coffee table. Against the wall is an Arklestrop, half moon table with a lamp and a flat woven rug on the floor.
Putting IKEA furniture in a Medieval Gothic setting is a fun way of examining the way the masters of the age would have handled painting modern furniture. Much of the Swedish designer’s products have straight, simple lines, ideally lending themselves to being recreated in a different way.
Next up, the washroom!
Medieval Bathroom – watercolor and ink, 21 cm x 29 cm (For Sale)
This time I explored the Medieval bathroom, complete with contemporary fixtures and fittings. IKEA don’t make baths and shower units so I had to look elsewhere for a modern tub. However, the shower curtain, the basket and the toothbrush glass all come from the Swedish furnishers.
Painting the old and new
Again the painting has a typical 14th century palette and I’ve got some gold acrylic paint to replicate the gold leaf commonly found in Medieval manuscripts. These pictures have the feel, colour and style of the original artworks but with the fun inclusion of electric sockets and brass taps. All fitted into impossible spaces, at weird and wonderful angles, just like the International Gothic artists did.
When planning this series it suddenly came to me that IKEA are an excellent choice for the furnishings. Their designs are clean and simple but most of all they are a world renowned brand, instantly recognisable and easy to identify with. Giving their products a Medieval spin but still making them obviously IKEAesque.
Imagining how past things might have been portrayed in a modern light has always interested me. As with images, the same applies to music. Today, would the group Buggles have written YouTube killed the MTV star, instead of the long dead video killing the radio star. Blondie’s classic “Call me!”, most likely would be “Text me!” while Joni Mitchell hails an Uber cab instead of her Big Yellow Taxi. Next up, a kitchen I think.