Caturday felids: Leonardo’s cat studies, traveling cat chronicles, world’s bravest kitty

Stephen Barnard wrote me this: “I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Leonardo da Vinci, so your Caturday post prompted me to google Leonardo’s cat drawings. (As far as I know he never painted cats, or if he did they don’t survive.) I found this image of his cat studies:”

and here [“Study of cat movements and positions” 1517-1518]:


He added this: “As they’re studies, there’s little attempt at realism. The most realistic ones, to my eye, are the sleeping cats. The dynamism and anatomical accuracy of the action studies contrast with the grotesque cats we’re used to seeing in early Renaissance paintings.” Indeed! I’ve long pondered why artists of all ages have been unable to accurately portray cats. This is a welcome exception, but of course it’s Leonardo!


The Guardian calls our attention to a book that might be worth a look: The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon page, where you can read an excerpt):

Here’s the Guardian‘s plot summary:

Nana is the protagonist. A stray cat in Tokyo with a strong survival instinct, he is taken in by a young man named Satoru after being hit by a car. Nana finds he has fallen on his feet. Satoru is a cat lover from youth; gentle and intuitive, he still mourns his first cat Hachi, from whom he was traumatically separated as a child. The name “Nana” derives from na, the Japanese word for seven – the shape of Nana’s tail; Hachi was named after the number eight because of markings on his head. Nana is scornful of Satoru’s literal-mindedness when it comes to naming cats, but he has the usual feline instinct for knowing which side his crispy chicken is battered, and decides to stick around.

Five happy years of cohabitation pass in a single sentence, and then Satoru tells the cat that they must make a journey. They will visit Satoru’s childhood friend Kosuke, with the purpose of rehoming Nana. Satoru is not forthcoming about the reason. “We just can’t live together any more,” he says. I wrote “Oh no, is Satoru ill?” in the margin, but that’s me; I’ve seen a lot of films. At this stage, Satoru’s motives are officially unclear. The reunited Kosuke and Satoru reminisce about the number-eight cat, and we learn about Satoru’s talent for friendship and the shock of his parents’ death. But does Nana stay with Kosuke?

The structure of The Travelling Cat Chronicles is deceptively simple. With alternating sections of third-person and Nana-the-cat narration, it consists of three journeys to friends, followed by a pilgrimage across a beautifully evoked landscape. There is then a heart-breaking last journey that left me in bits. I’ve rarely changed my mind so much about a book in the course of reading it. I started out quibbling with the translation (would a cat that exclaims “Good lord” also say “yada yada”?), but before long, I had surrendered to Arikawa’s powerful emotional agenda, according to which a human’s love for his cat is not delusional but self-fulfilling, just as all loving sacrifice is its own reward.

The reviewer, Lynne Truss, gives two thumbs up, as do nearly all the reviewers weighing in at Amazon:

What Nana observes and experiences through their journeys is Satoru’s huge, lifelong capacity for quiet consideration, which is moving enough in itself. But when the cat responds to his love – well, you ought to laugh, but I couldn’t. “Cats are not so heartless,” declares Nana. “How could I ever leave him?” I know, I know. What a sap I am. But anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not.

Has anybody read this? This is one cat book I’d consider reading!


And here’s a brave moggie playing with a huge rhinoceros and her baby. I’m surprised they let it in the room with those beasts!


h/t: Snowy Owl


  1. Posted December 9, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Beautifully drawn cats, Jerry! Doesn’t the world seem like a better place now?

  2. Alan Clark
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    The book is very highly rated on goodreads:

  3. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised they let it in the room with those beasts!

    I suspect that they just couldn’t keep it out. Cats being cats, and rhinos needing access to the outside world. I rather doubt this is the first time cat and rhinos have encountered each other(s), even if it’s the first time they’ve done so where the staff (feline sense) have seen them.
    I’m sure I’ve seen some of those Leo-cat drawings somewhere before.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted December 9, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      A far as I can see from the video, those are white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum). They are not aggressive, or at least vastly less so then black rhinos (Diceros bicornis).

  4. Posted December 9, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    How similar where cats of Leonardo’s time to cats of our own?

    My understanding is that, Ancient Egypt excepted, keeping domestic cats is a relatively new thing – dating back 200 years or so – and that cats have changed somewhat during that rather brief period.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted December 9, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes, could the faces of cats have changed over recent centuries?

  5. Monika
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Many zoos employ cats to keep the rodents away. All the fooder attracts mice etc, cats are cheaper, more effective and safer than traps or poison.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Well, if we’re posting about cat drawings and cat fiction, a somewhat underrated (albeit not great) example of both is the 1960s cartoon “Gay Purr-ee” about two cats in Paris starring the singing voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet.

    Here’s the finale:

  7. nicky
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    What is that little dragon doing there among Leonardo’s cats?

  8. Posted December 9, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    “The Travelling Cat Chronicles” is a wonderful story, told with humour and poignancy. I definitely recommend it.

  9. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted December 9, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    You bend my (senior) mind when you revisit an oldie but a goodie. I was all, “Where have I seen this before?”

    November 8, 2017.
    Mary L said, “Scent marking the rhinos…”
    And I replied, “This is mine and this one too. Mine.”

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