The very fine late-17th century frescoes in the nave of the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the work of Giovanni Odazzi, Giuseppe Passeri and Fra Umile da Foligno, depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.
One of the frescoes depicts the Annunciation. It is a rather busy picture in the Baroque manner. In addition to the usual suspects, and a host of angels, there is, at the very bottom of the scene, a cat curled up asleep in a basket.
What on earth is a cat doing in this sacred scene? Is it just a domestic detail or does it have another meaning? Given its prominence in the painting, I think the latter. Its inclusion may refer to a medieval saying that the devil was trapped by Christ’s incarnation just as a mouse is trapped by a cat.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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