Images of the Roman Cat
As well as asking the first four willing interviewees about their favourite objects, I also asked them to tell me everything they know about the Roman Cat. All those that I spoke too had a surprisingly large amount of information to tell me about the cat, and very strong opinion on the cat. It seemed to be an object of either love or hate.
This cat is an iconic object in Powis Castle (it even has a paragraph devoted to it on the Powis Castle entry on wikipedia). It is referred to on wikipedia as ‘Clive of India’s Cat’.
The cat sits proudly in the Long Gallery at the castle. It has been captured mid-catch of a snake. It is supposed to be Roman and dates from somewhere between the 1st century BC and 2nd century AD. I find it both an object of beauty and quite disturbing. The cat has such an angry, wild face. The marble surface is quite stunning and smooth (but not quite right as I found out from the interviews) contrasting with the pose and emotion of the statue. I am fascinated with this cat.
The cat attracts a lot of attention because it actually has quite dubious origins. Representations of cats are rare in Roman works of art so some speculate that it can’t possibly be a real Roman Cat. Others say that its rarity shouldn’t be doubted and its value lies in its rarity.
It is said that Clive of India purchased the statue for his wife on a visit to Italy in 1774. It is also said that he had been previously saved from a snake attack by a cat and saw the statue and considered it fate that it should come home with him. Slightly counter to that romantic idea it has been said that his wife simply liked cats and he bought it for her to satisfy her ailurophilia. If that latter version of the story is true, it seems a rather strange statue to want to have given how angry and fierce the cat looks.
After conducting the first four interviews, I spent some more time studying and photographing the cat. I also made some more sketches. I found myself strangely feeling closer to the cat. I almost started to feel that in some sense it was partly ‘mine’. Despite its strong emotion and wild expression, I like it.
On return home from Powis, my own cat came to pester me and I found myself comparing the Roman Cat to my 21st-century cat. In terms of physiology, they were remarkable similar. In terms of temperament. They couldn’t have been more different.