;In traditional Chinese art, animal paintings never enjoyed the same status as landscapes; and among them, cat paintings were even farther from mainstream. As the renowned Ming Dynasty collector Zhang Chou put it: “Ancient people compared horses to gentlemen, and horse paintings were therefore admissible to fasting rooms as decorative curiosities. On the other hand, while works such as Bao’s tigers, Ho’s cats, Yi’s monkeys and Tsui’s fish were also praised, they were only fit to be hung in tea houses.” This long-term neglect meant that there has been little systematic research on the subject, as few paid any attention to the stylistic changes of Chinese cat paintings.
Cat paintings reached their historic peak in the Song Dynasty, during which a paradigm was formed. After a decline in the following Yuan Dynasty, they enjoyed renewed popularity in the Ming era. However, the works produced during this renaissance differed from those of the Song Dynasty both in form and meaning. This paper examines the varieties and characteristics of 15-18th century cat paintings compared to those of the Song Dynasty.
This thesis divides 15-18th century cat paintings into three main categories, namely auspices, politics and erotica, to analyse the different aspects of the works. In the first chapter, Auspicious Meanings of Cat Paintings, it looks at the different plants and animals that are represented alongside cats, and examines whether there were any changes in form or meaning, and whether the cat and butterfly “Longevity” symbolism only started developing in the Ming Dynasty. Chapter two, Political Meanings of Cat Paintings, investigates the application of the literary cat and mouse metaphor in Ming and Qing cat paintings, paying special attention to the works of Ming emperor Xuanzong. Finally, in chapter three, Erotic Meanings of Cat Paintings, the author unpicks the ambiguous parallels drawn between cats and women, while discussing the connotations that can be found in Ming and Qing beauty paintings, and how cats are seen as symbols of lust and desire.
To conclude the paper, the author revises the meanings and varieties of 15-18th century Chinese cat paintings, in order to gain a better, more organised overview, and to create greater research value for this long neglected field.